RALEIGH — State legislators did not need to get their hearing checked. The crowd in front of the Legislative Building on Tuesday really was asking lawmakers to raise taxes.
More than 100 leaders and supporters of nonprofits, service organizations and professional associations warned of the likely damage from the sort of state budget cuts being discussed by the legislature. Many of the groups rely on state government for at least a portion of their funding or for their members' salaries.
The late morning speechfest signaled the first of two dueling revenue rallies with an anti-tax "Tea Party" scheduled for today on the grassy mall behind the Legislative Building.
Leaders of Tuesday's rally emphasized that cutting some programs will end up costing more money later. Denna Weston runs the Triangle branch of Summit House, a residential alternative to prison for mothers who have committed nonviolent crimes. The organization, with outlets across North Carolina, received $1.2 million from the state last year but saved the state far more by keeping women out of costly prison beds, Weston said.
"It's about preserving the public investments that keep our communities safe," said Kelvin Spragley, associate executive director of the N.C. Association of Educators.
North Carolina is facing a gap of more than $4 billion between revenue and planned spending for next year's budget, and lawmakers are sorting out the mix of spending cuts and potential tax increases, combined with federal stimulus money, necessary to balance the budget that begins July1. House members are drafting the most recent version of the budget, a task they began after revenue estimates dropped sharply, forcing them to consider deeper spending reductions.
Speakers at the rally cautioned that a recession is when North Carolinians turn to the government for help, such as a community college courses to train for finding a new job or support programs, such as child care, that enable them to keep their jobs.
Julia Leggett of the Arc of North Carolina warned that elderly and disabled North Carolinians depend on state programs for help that will let them to stay at home instead going to an institution.
"It's worth raising revenue to keep people in their homes and in their communities," said Leggett, whose organization advocates for the disabled.
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