Deep cuts on table in state

Services lost, layoffs possible

Staff writerNovember 23, 2010 

Gov. Beverly Perdue

SHAWN ROCCO - SROCCO@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

  • Here are some of the cost cutting options laid out by various state agencies.

    Community Colleges

    Scott Ralls, the president of the community college system, called his department's proposal balanced, with some budget shortfall being made up with a $10 credit hour increase, and the rest coming from budget cuts. He said the cuts are particularly difficult because the system has seen a 25 percent increase in student enrollment since the beginning of the recession.

    For a full-time student, the increase will likely mean an increase of $100 to $150 per semester.

    He said about 1,000 positions would be cut, which would have the effect of eliminating 100,000 class registrations.

    Correction

    The department is putting forth the option of closing Haywood Correctional Center in Haywood County. It is proposing the option of eliminating the substance abuse programs by the Evergreen Private Substance Treatment Services for men and the Mary Francis Substance Abuse Treatment Services for women.

    It is recommending cutting back inmate road litter crews, eliminating 39 correctional officers. It has suggested cutting back inmate community work programs, such as help during snowstorms or hurricanes or painting, thus eliminating 22 correctional officers.

    It is asking the legislature to stop admitting misdemeanants, such as drug abusers, into state prisons, providing them with alternative punishment.

    Cultural Resources

    The department is proposing to reorganize and consolidate the N.C. Museum of History with the Museum of the Cape Fear and the Museum of the Albemarle, eliminating 13 positions.

    It is laying out the option of making the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer self-supporting through fees. Admission is now free.

    It is considering a 5 percent reduction of state funding of the N.C. Symphony, eliminating eight to 10 of the symphony's 80 education and evening concerts outside the Triangle.

    Environment and Natural Resources

    Close the Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest in Wilkes County, the Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest in Bladen County, Mount Jefferson State Natural Area in Ashe County and Singletary Lake State Park in Bladen County.

    Also on the table is closing all state parks on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays except those in which there is a contractual agreement to keep them open - Carolina Beach, Chimney Rock, Fort Macon, Haw River, Jockey's Ridge and Mount Mitchell. The department said it was impracticable to close Hammocks Beach or Umstead parks.

    Health and Human Services

    The department is proposing major cuts to community health services that help people in the home.

    It would also cut Smart Start, the program started in the 1990s by then-Gov. Jim Hunt to provide quality child care and early education to families where the children are regarded as at risk.

    "To achieve the necessary reductions, it will require the elimination or curtailment of some services and programs as well as potential downsizing of operations and personnel," said Lanier Cansler, the DHHS secretary, said in a statement.

    He said the agency will be "focused on accomplishing required budget reductions in a manner that works to protect the most critical services and maximizes the benefit of every dollar available to the agency."

    University of North Carolina

    UNC proposed reducing 1,869 full-time equivalent positions if necessary, to save $270 million. About 600 would be faculty teaching positions, 133 would be academic support positions, 133 people involved in operation of the physical plant and 113 in business affairs.

Gov. Bev Perdue's administration is weighing sharp and painful budget cuts next year that would include state park closures, tuition hikes at community colleges and major state layoffs.

Faced with a projected $3.5 billion budget shortfall next year, Perdue asked the heads of state departments, agencies and colleges to develop plans for cuts ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent. The governor's office made public those recommendations Monday at the request of news organizations.

The proposals are just the first step in what is likely to be a long and winding political path as the Democratic governor considers her options and then the new Republican legislature enacts a budget, probably some time next summer. But the options are the clearest indications yet, that the lives of millions of North Carolinians will likely be touched by a new wave of austerity in state government that has not been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Students enrolled in North Carolina's 58-campus community college system - which has boomed during the recession as people sought new job skills - would see tuition rise $10 per credit hour to $56.50 per credit hour. At the same time, 1,000 teachers will likely lose their jobs, meaning that fewer community college courses will be offered in nursing and welding and other subjects.

"We are talking about a 10 percent cut that is real pain," said Scott Ralls, president of the state community college system.

State parks, such as the Rendezvous Mountain Educational State Forest in Wilkes County, the Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest in Bladen County, Mount Jefferson State Natural Area in Ashe County and Singletary Lake State Park in Bladen County would be closed under the proposals being considered.

Also under consideration is closing many other state parks on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays - the days when they are least used.

For those who rely on home health services, deep cuts appear likely.

Last week, the state Department of Public Instruction laid out options that would result in the loss of 5,300 of the roughly 82,000 state-funded teachers and an increase in class size.

Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University, said it was difficult to tell whether the state agencies were trying to influence public opinion by proposing to cut popular programs.

"Obviously both on the federal and state level, on occasions like this, agencies understand some of the things they do are less valued by the public than others," Taylor said. "It makes sense to put the more valued services on the chopping block to make the public aware that they will have a tangible impact."

But Taylor added, "In North Carolina most people have been primed that there will be significant cuts. We are moving into the third year of the fiscal crisis. People understand it hurts. It's hard to imagine that it would be an effective strategy."

The coming cuts also come on top of two years of austere budgets. But the crunch is expected to worsen in the fiscal year beginning in July because $1.3 billion in tax increases is expected to expire and $1.6 billion in federal stimulus money will run out.

The anticipated cuts alarmed advocates for public services.

"These kinds of cuts would be an absolute disaster," said Rob Schofield with N.C. Policy Watch, a liberal advocacy group. "They would decimate a host of already underfunded programs and wipe out decades of progress. We're talking about firing thousands of teachers, health care providers, mental health workers, and providers of aid to seniors.

"If we want North Carolina to look like some dark, crumbling rust belt state that's all but given up on progress, that is merely trying to survive, these are the kinds of cuts we would implement," Schofield said.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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