Budget Begins to Move in House;
GA Leaders Use Unemployment Benefits
to Challenge Governor’s Veto Power
Last week the chairs of the House Appropriations Subcommittees started revealing their plans for the 2011-13 budget. Not surprisingly, their plans differ in significant ways from the budget proposed by Governor Perdue. The most important difference is that the House leaders will not approve the continuation of any of the emergency tax increases enacted in 2009. The Governor’s budget would retain part of the sales tax increase, but none of the more progressive top tax bracket on the income of the state’s wealthiest citizens. The House leadership plans to balance the state’s budget, even in the face of large shortfalls, entirely through cuts. The cuts will lead to the loss of hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs. (And we thought this session was about creating jobs . . .HAHAHA. Silly us.) While the budget proposals are not set in concrete, they do give a pretty good roadmap of the plans of the House leadership, plans which mean even deeper cuts than the Governor’s.
Here are some of the big-picture issues:
- Cut $36 million from the Smart Start early childhood program and $16 million from the More at Four pre-kindergarten program, both nationally recognized.
- Eliminate dropout prevention grants and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from other public school funding. While legislators will claim that they aren’t cutting classroom teachers, local school boards will have to make up for lost funding in other areas and may find it impossible to do so without cutting some teachers.
- Reduce Medicaid reimbursements by over $110 million, which will decrease the availability of health care providers for children and adults in low-income families.
- Cut mental health services by over $35 million.
- Cut all teachers’ assistants except for grades K-1.
- Cut 15.5% from the UNC System, including $460+ million in “flexibility cuts,” which means the universities have to figure out where to make the cuts. This will almost certainly result in the elimination of thousands of class offerings and hundreds of faculty laid off.
- Eliminate Sentencing Services and make dramatic increases in court fees.
- Cut the Department of Environment and Natural Resources by more than 20%, with some of those cuts reduced by dipping into reserve funds and revolving funds.
- Raid the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, both of which protect land from development, in order to pay current operating costs.
- Slash new money for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund from $100 million to zero.
The picture is no less grim when we look at the details. Among proposed cuts are the following:
Health and Human Services
- Reduce Community Health Grants by $1.5 million.
- Eliminate NC Care-line ($380,000 and 11 jobs)
- Cut $3.5 million (almost 10% of state funding) for early intervention.
- Reduce funding for the Office of Minority Health by $402,000, cutting 5 jobs.
- Consolidate Healthy Carolinians and Health Education, reducing funding by $571,000 and eliminating 10 positions.
- Eliminate state funds for county departments of social services (almost $5.5 million)
- Total cuts to Medicaid of $335 million, more than 10% of its state funding. This includes cuts in reimbursement rates, changes in optional services, and an estimated $80 million of savings from managed care, which, if not attained, will mean that much more in cuts to programs.
- Cuts to NC Health Choice of almost $9 million, more than 10% of state funding.
- Reduce funding to non-profits by $5 million.
- Elimination of state funds for dropout prevention grants, mentoring, and Kids Voting.
- Cut 10% or more from at-risk student services. Limited English Proficiency, Communities in Schools, and Teach for America.
- Increase Community College tuition by $10 per credit hour.
- Reduce aid to NC students in private colleges by 10%.
Economic Development. Cuts in state funding of:
- 15% from regional economic development commissions
- 25% from Land Loss Prevention
- 15% from Institute of Minority Economic Development
- 25% from the Association of Community Development Corporations
- 25% from Minority Support Center
- 25% from Community Development Initiative
- 15% from the Rural Center.
Courts, Prisons, and Alternatives to Prison
- Cut funds for attorneys who represent poor defendants by almost $6.7 million
- Eliminate state funding for Women at Risk, Summit House, Harriet’s House, and Our Children’s Place.
- Replace 54 prison chaplains with volunteers.
- Eliminate 39 juvenile court counselor positions and 8 chief court counselors.
- Eliminate 4 chaplains’ positions in the juvenile justice system.
In you aren’t sufficiently depressed by this summary, you can read more in the budget documents themselves by clicking on the following links. They will also tell you more about which of these cuts have been proposed by the Governor and which are being added by the House:
- Health and Human Services
- Justice and Public Safety
- Natural & Economic Resources
- General Government
What to Do?
Having an impact on the state budget is very difficult for grass-roots advocates, both because most of the spending decisions are being made by a small group of Republican legislators (just as, in past years, they were made by a small group of Democratic legislators) and because it’s hard to generate enough grass-roots concern about any one specific budget cut, especially the (relatively) smaller ones. Still, you should weigh in. This process has many more steps, and legislators, even ones proposing huge cuts in programs and services, need to know that there is popular support for programs they want to cut. I would suggest that you communicate (respectfully, of course) with:
- Your Representative and your Senator (While the budget is currently moving in the House, it is expected to go from there to the Senate by the end of April.) See below for contact information.
- Speaker Tillis and President Pro Tem Phil Berger
- House Appropriations Chairs: Reps. Brubaker, Barnhart, Gillespie, and Johnson
- Senate Appropriations Chairs: Sens. Brunstetter, Stevens, and Hunt
- Governor Perdue (see below for contact info)
- Cuts are too severe and will cause the state to fall back years or decades in education, care for vulnerable people, and protection of the environment. If a cut will affect you personally, tell your story.
- The budget should keep at least the emergency tax increases from 2009. The state’s fiscal emergency has not yet gone away. Keeping the 2009 tax increases (on the sales tax and the income tax on the wealthiest) could bring in $1.4 billion in additional revenue. Tell those you contact if you are willing to continue to pay small tax increases in order to protect the common good.
And Then the New Wrinkle
Late last week, leaders in the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed legislation which tried to limit the Democratic Governor’s ability to veto budget legislation by linking the state budget with unemployment benefits for 73,000 North Carolinians who have lost their jobs and have just seen their benefits run out. Specifically, the bill authorizing extension of the unemployment benefits would also have authorized the continuing operation of state government after the start of the 2011-12 fiscal year on July 1 if no new budget had been enacted, but at spending rates of only 87% of the Governor’s proposed budget. Note that extending the unemployment benefits would require NO state funds and have NO impact on the state’s budget, so the effort at linkage is solely about limiting the Governor’s ability to use the constitutionally established veto and forcing her to accept a 13% cut in her proposed budget, which already contains deep cuts.
For more about this ploy, click here for Rob Schofield’s report from NC Policy Watch.
Late Saturday night, the Governor vetoed this bad bill, offering to sign a new bill which deals cleanly with unemployment benefits if the General Assembly sends her one. The chair of the state’s Republican Party accused the Governor of being unwilling to cut “one cent from her . . . budget proposal.” Of course, what she really was unwilling to do was to accept 13% in additional cuts (approximately $2.5 billion), considerably more than “one cent.”
For Members of the General Assembly
By telephone: All legislative offices can be reached through the legislative switchboard – (919) 733-4111.
By e-mail: Legislative e-mail addresses follow the pattern of <first name dot last firstname.lastname@example.org>. (Example: Speaker Thom Tillis’ address is Thom.Tillis@ncleg.net.) If you have any question about the spelling of your legislator’s name or whether your legislator’s e-mail address uses a nickname, you can confirm addresses at the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Click on “House” or “Senate” and look for Member Lists.
To find out who your legislators are, go to the General Assembly’s web site: www.ncleg.net. Look for “Who Represents Me?” near the top of the homepage. You will find a variety of ways to search, including through your nine-digit ZIP Code. (And there’s a link to the Postal Service if you don’t know yours.) For those without Internet access, local Boards of Elections can be asked for assistance.
For the Governor
By phone: (919) 733-4240
By Fax: (919) 733-2120
Governor Bev Perdue
Office of the Governor
20301 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-0301
By e-mail: email@example.com