Point of View

A budget to protect families

February 4, 2011 

— North Carolina didn't become a great place to live, do business, grow up and grow old overnight. Generations of people have worked hard to sustain our world-class universities, our renowned medical centers and the public safety institutions that benefit us all.

To construct a better future for North Carolina - especially the next generation, who will be our future leaders and work force - we need to protect those vital public investments. To live up to our obligations to older citizens, who helped build the prosperity we've enjoyed, we need to do the same.

Now more than ever, North Carolina needs Gov. Beverly Perdue to stand up for our state's families.

During the state budget process, children and seniors especially need the governor to exhibit strong leadership. With shortsighted calls for a cuts-only approach that would devastate North Carolina's economy and communities, our top officials must take steps to preserve what it has taken so long to build.

A thriving economy requires a well-educated work force. Studies show that about two-thirds of future jobs will require some post-secondary education. If we want North Carolina's children to have the necessary skills, education is a must.

This is why we must be grateful to the generations before ours. With foresight, they built a public university system that is the envy of other states. One of the many ways this investment has paid off is that North Carolina's economy has consistently performed better than others in the region that did not take such a forward-thinking path.

But a cuts-only approach would cut out our state's economic heart.

We and the other members of Together NC, a collection of more than 120 organizations across the state promoting wise choices for shared prosperity, know that trying to balance the budget with cuts alone would result in thousands of teacher layoffs in primary schools, community colleges and public universities. Some are even talking about closing entire college campuses.

This slash-and-burn approach would also result in massive cuts to home- and community-based services, the kind that many older people rely on, especially those over age 80. And cuts to optional Medicaid services such as dental and vision care would put significant numbers of low-income seniors at further health risk.

These cuts would not only harm our most vulnerable people, but they would also cost immeasurably more in the long run. The human and economic toll from this approach is too great to contemplate.

There is a different route.

We should stand up for public investments such as our schools, community colleges, firefighters and health care services. North Carolinians from Murphy to Manteo value education, health care and public safety. Our governor must propose a budget that reflects those values.

A balanced approach that includes revenue is essential. If we want to ensure that North Carolina is poised to advance a future for both its children and its older residents, we need fuel for our state's economic engine.

Our budget problem is actually a revenue problem. State spending on vital human needs has actually been dropping on a per capita basis for more than a decade. Our outdated revenue system, which hasn't been updated in nearly a century, no longer meets the needs of a changing economy. Through smart reform, we can make sure our kids have quality schools and our older neighbors have access to essential services.

Like generations before, we need to think big, think bold and think forward. When our great-grandchildren look back at the choices we make today, we want them to be grateful for the safe communities, strong schools and excellent health services we fought for.

That fight starts with the governor. At this critical point in our history, North Carolina needs her to stand up with us for children, older adults and families across the state.

Rob Thompson is executive director of the Covenant with NC's Children. Bob Jackson is state director of AARP-North Carolina. Both organizations are members of Together NC (www.togethernc.org).

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