Health care advocates appeal to Senate for more funding

lbonner@newsobserver.comJune 12, 2012 

Senate budget writers heard some emotional appeals for money Tuesday from health care advocates who said the $20.1 billion spending plan threatens to push the state backward.

The Senate budget committee heard requests for money for anti-smoking programs, teen pregnancy programs and compensation for victims of the state’s shuttered eugenics program. The committee endorsed the budget without adding funding for any of those programs.

A vote of the full Senate is expected Wednesday.

Kristy Andrews of Stem, a small community about 30 miles north of Raleigh, carried her 5-year-old son Jeffrey to the podium to appeal for state money for anti-smoking efforts.

Her husband, Justin, is featured in an ad for the anti-smoking campaign aimed at teenagers. He started smoking at 14 and died when he was 30, Andrews said.

More young people will start smoking if the campaign disappears, she said.

“For something that can be prevented, that is unacceptable,” said Andrews. “Please don’t give up on that next generation.”

Money from the state’s settlement with tobacco companies and funneled to a special trust fund paid for smoking prevention programs. The trust fund was dissolved in the last budget, but the legislature kept some of its programs going for one year. That year ends in a few weeks.

Representatives from two conservative groups, Americans for Prosperity and the John Locke Foundation, praised Republican senators for their budget. The Senate proposal would spend $127 million less than the proposed House budget, largely avoids using one-time money for ongoing expenses, does not raise taxes and puts $139 million in the “Rainy Day” reserve fund.

“I’d like to commend you for a grown-up budget,” said Becki Gray of the foundation.

Most speakers, though, focused on areas they found lacking.

Proposed funding cuts to teen-pregnancy prevention programs comes on the heels of historic drops in adolescent pregnancy rates. The Senate proposes a 30 percent reduction, amounting to $650,000 for teen pregnancy prevention, said Kay Phillips, CEO of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina.

The state’s teen pregnancy rate declined 53 percent over the last 20 years. The proposed budget cut would hinder efforts to cut the rate by another 30 percent, Phillips said. She emphasized the long-term benefits that come from reducing teen pregnancy, such as self-sufficient families and higher graduation rates.

Senate budget writer Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, said the state cannot afford to keep the programs speakers advocated.

“These are all good things,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to say, ‘where are you going to get the money from?’”

The Senate budget does not include money to compensate victims of the state’s eugenics program. The House budget includes $10 million to pay each verified victim $50,000.

The state ran a robust eugenics program for four decades, and legislators have talked for years about compensating victims. About 1,500 to 2,000 are thought to still be alive.

Mark G. Bold, project lead for the Justice for Sterilization Victims Project, asked to put the money in the budget for them.

“By providing for reparations to these victims, North Carolina will declare to its citizens, to other states and even other countries across the world that still practice this barbaric practice that North Carolina stands with justice.”

After the meeting, Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, suggested the eugenics compensation money may be a bargaining chip. As part of budget negotiations, the House and Senate leave out of their proposals items the other side wants in order to gain leverage in the compromise negotiations.

House Speaker Thom Tillis is a vocal supporter of the eugenics compensation. The House budget does not include money for the education changes Senate Leader Phil Berger wants.

“We will meet with leadership to discuss the issue,” McKissick said. “I am cautiously optimistic it will be resolved in negotiations. Time will tell.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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