Most of the debate this week about the Senate budget understandably focused on the more than 5,000 jobs it eliminates, the cuts it makes to education, and the $770 million it sets aside for tax cuts for millionaires.
But there are dozens of other questionable funding decisions and troubling policy changes included in the massive 413-page budget bill that only a handful of Senate leaders had seen before it was released late Sunday night.
Each one of the key decisions deserves open committee debate and public input so Senators can know what they are voting on and the public can understand what the budget means for their families.
That’s what appropriations subcommittees are for, but this budget simply appeared out of the backrooms with no public discussion on the vast majority of the important decisions it makes.
And that’s not just the view of folks who don’t generally agree with the Republican Senate leadership.
Governor Pat McCrory seems to think so too, telling a television reporter that he opposed the provision to move oversight of the State Bureau of Investigation from Attorney General Roy Cooper to the Department of Public Safety.
McCrory noted that there were no hearings on the decision. And there weren’t.
There was also no public discussion in any committee about charging the owners of hybrid and electric cars more to register their vehicles or waiting until school buses had been driven 250,000 miles to replace them.
There’s a good chance that we don’t even know everything the written-in-secret document actually does.
Pro-choice advocates discovered two days ago that the budget funnels money to a controversial religious based group that trains workers at so-called counseling centers that provide misleading information about abortion to vulnerable women.
The budget kicks low-income pregnant women off of Medicaid and instead provides a subsidy for private insurance. That means poor women could be forced to come up with several thousand dollars to access quality prenatal care. Most of them simply won’t be able to afford it.
The budget eliminates the state’s contract with prisoner legal services and instead provides computer terminals for inmates to use, which is likely to create chaos and cost the state more money fending off frivolous claims. That seems like a subject a committee should have discussed with the lawyers who currently run the program.
It’s a long list and it also includes things that were mentioned in the debate, but not fully explained or understood.
The Senate budget says for example that it cuts the number of slots for NC PreK by 7,500 over the next two years, but the actual number is more than twice that because the budget does not renew funding for 5,000 slots added by former Governor Beverly Perdue last year.
Denying vital preschool services for more than 17,000 at-risk four year olds deserves a committee hearing. So does the budget’s decision to slash funding for Smart Start by 40 percent or abolish the state’s successful public financing system for appellate court judges.
This is not just a budget that appropriates money and sets aside funding for a regressive tax shift. It is a 413 page policy document full of bad ideas that no one has even discussed, much less allowed the public to weigh in on. Democracy is not supposed to work this way.