Slash and burn

House Republicans unveil budget cuts that would hurt North Carolinians almost across the board.

April 14, 2011 

Now we know. Now we know what happens when shortsighted, special-interest lawmaking confronts a major budget crisis and brinksmanship trumps statesmanship.

Given the chance to show their mettle in that crisis, to prove they were right all these years when they criticized a Democratic majority's governing, Republicans in the state House have failed. They have failed the state and its people. They are presenting budget proposals that will eviscerate state government and the public education system in a way that would set back North Carolina to a point from which it might never recover.

Must there be budget-cutting? Yes, and some of it will require job reductions. But Republicans in their targeting reflect more of an ideology. They want to diminish progressive programs (Democratic programs, of course) and slash regulation of business or anything that looks like it.

In the name of closing a budget gap estimated at between $1.9 billion and $2.6 billion, House Republicans, led by Speaker Thom Tillis (although "led" is hardly the word for it), propose to cut funding for public education, environmental protection and public safety. They would do this while recklessly allowing a temporary state sales tax to expire. Under Gov. Beverly Perdue's proposed budget, three-fourths of that 1-cent tax would be kept on the books, bringing in an additional $800 million-plus to ease the pain.

Thousands of jobs will be lost with the House plan, and with them, services that most North Carolinians take for granted as part of the state's covenant with its citizens.

The numbers are astonishing. But there will be human consequences.

Parents who value the yeoman's effort put forth by teachers' assistants will quickly feel the impact of these proposed cuts, because assistants will be funded only in kindergarten and first grade. Those with children who are "at risk," meaning in need of special attention, will be told the help they counted on may not be there because of budget cuts. Families who have seen the positive results of the More at Four and Smart Start early childhood programs now will see the consequences of $16 million in money lost.

And on and on. Larger classes and fewer offerings are likely in community colleges and universities, with the job-training community colleges taking a 10 percent cut and the public universities taking 15 percent.

And on and on. The Department of Justice will lose 91 jobs, the state court system 390 jobs and legal aid for the poor, which keeps justice at least a little more fair, will lose millions of dollars.

And on and on. You'll pay for ferry rides that now are free, pay more for driver education. Expect longer lines everywhere, and likely higher fees everywhere as well.

In a move reflective of the Republicans' resentment of those in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the agency will lose hundreds of jobs. GOP leaders have long felt that DENR has given business too hard a time with permitting, and that it's full of liberal tree-huggers. Those tree-huggers have fought for decades to keep North Carolina's water and air clean and to protect natural wonders that are valued not just by residents but by the millions of tourists who have spent tens of millions of dollars on Tar Heel soil through the decades.

For Republicans to give up a temporary sales tax that few people even notice in the name of some anti-tax ideology and thus kill jobs, diminish the quality of public education and put this state's natural resources at risk is appalling. Perhaps the Republican-led Senate will do better. Certainly it could no worse.

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