Editorial

Now, the cost

The hits on the UNC system demonstrate the serious consequences of excessive state budget cuts.

July 10, 2011 

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CORRECTION

In the July 10 editorial "Now, the cost, " the length of the N.C. Governor's School summer program was misstated. The program's sessions run for six weeks.

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Republicans in the General Assembly know there will be some life-changing, lousy consequences for people in North Carolina thanks to their misguided strategy in closing a $2.5 billion budget gap.

But they don't want to take responsibility for those consequences. Having done their work and sliced public education to a point where North Carolina is near the bottom in per pupil spending and the public university and community college systems will be hurt badly, along with cutting health care help for the poor, the GOP majority is out of town.

And House Speaker Thom Tillis, meeting last week with editors and reporters of The News & Observer, blithely predicted that he and his colleagues, along with the Senate's GOP majority, would be working up overrides of vetoes meted out by Gov. Beverly Perdue that have tried, among other things, to protect environmental resources against the Republicans' anti-regulation onslaught.

Tillis seems to avoid facing the realities of the GOP budget, believing what he wishes to believe: that there won't be the magnitude of job losses Democrats predict and that somehow a puny reduction in the sales tax will create thousands of jobs.

Sure, it was tough

Was doing the budget a yeoman's task, a challenge with few happy solutions? You bet it was, and there was going to be pain across the board in state government no matter what.

But Republicans said before the budgeting session even opened that they would not compromise on allowing a 2009 sales tax increase of 1 cent on the dollar to expire, thus giving up over $1 billion in revenue. It was revenue that could have saved thousands of jobs and worthwhile programs.

Now the rubber has met the road, with perhaps the most stark example of what the cuts mean seen in the University of North Carolina system, where $414 million will be lost. At UNC-Chapel Hill, about $100 million will be gone. That will have potentially dire consequences in the undergraduate classroom, where most of the state money goes. (The university gets much money from grants and the federal government, as well as from priorities-challenged athletics boosters pushing an $80 million renovation to the football stadium.)

Classes will be larger and some will simply be eliminated. This will be felt at other campuses as well. System President Tom Ross is keeping a stiff upper lip, to his credit, but the truth is that the university will be hard pressed to make a quick comeback from cuts of this size.

But by golly, people won't pay that extra percentage point on the sales tax.

School damage

Some $900,000 or so out of that tax revenue, for example, could have saved the Governor's School, where gifted young people attend a sort of summer camp for a week to hone their skills in the arts and other subjects with direction from the best public and private school faculty members.

Some 31,000 young North Carolinians, from all types of backgrounds, have attended the Governor's School. The school, free to those chosen until a $500 fee recently was imposed to counter previous budget cuts, was the first of its kind in the United States.

Thanks to GOP-led budgeting, it appears likely that, barring substantial private donations, the program will be gone, and with it will be gone opportunity for young people, many of modest means, to be inspired and encouraged.

Of course, Republicans also cut some funding for Smart Start and More at Four, two early education programs that have helped disadvantaged youngsters get off to a positive beginning in their school years, and thus have a much better chance of success later on.

All that chest-puffing Republicans did as they took long knives to state programs may have brought them some political exhilaration. But for many North Carolinians, the most likely feeling that results from their actions will be a punch in the gut.

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