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N.C. budget cuts target services, jobs
‘Draconian’ proposal sparks debate
 
Published Wednesday, April 27, 2011 2:08 pm
by Sommer Brokaw

RALEIGH – N.C. Rep. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, summed up the House of Representatives recent budget cut proposals’ effect on African Americans in one word: “draconian.”

Republican leaders released the budget April 12 with an overall target goal of $18.3 billion. Governor Bev Perdue released her own proposal with a target goal of $19.9 billion. The budget shortfall is estimated to be between $2.4 to $2.7 billion.

Edwin McLenaghan, public policy analyst at N.C. Budget and Tax Center, said the main difference in the two proposals is the Republicans did not include the governor’s plan to continue three-quarters of the one-cent sales tax increase.

Now, the GOP majority has to trim more. Democrats say they took the axe to too many jobs and public services that could drastically affect minorities and low-income residents.

“It’s not people-oriented at all, and it’s going to impact African-Americans and other minorities in a more drastic way than the average citizen,” Parmon said.

Rep. Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, put it another way. “I just think there will be a lot of folks impacted by this budget, major cuts to adult day care. African-Americans are certainly going to be impacted because when everybody else has a cold, the minority community has pneumonia, which is going to be the case with this,” she said. “It’s just kind of bad, and to try to cut our way out of this is kind of inhumane to me.”

Earle, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, said the cuts would mostly hurt low-income people that don’t have access to funds and services.

Also, she said the Office of Minority Health has an 11 percent cut and five staff reductions. They handle small grants to address health issues like diabetes.

Parmon said early learning programs’ More at Four and Smart Start, which happen to have a large number of black and low-income individuals, received unusually high cuts. She said there’s also a proposal within the budget to merge the two programs, which will impact the number of slots for those who are at risk.

Under the budget proposal, public education funding will drop 8.8 percent, community colleges 10 percent and the UNC system 15.5 percent.

“There will be an enormous loss of jobs, and whenever the university system is cut, historically black colleges and universities are hit more drastically because they have always been in a catch-up mode and their budgets are much lower than flagship universities in the system,” Parmon said.

Though the budget does not state it would reduce the main teachers in public schools, it calls for an elimination of all teacher assistants except in grades K-1. Also, the 8.8 percent comes on top of a $304 million discretionary cut built into the budget.
“They will say we did not cut any teachers, and that is just a play on words because discretionary cuts are going to require Local Education Agencies to find those cuts, and because budgets cuts are so drastic LEAs will have to cut the classroom teachers and that may end up being thousands and may even be as high as 10,000,” Parmon said.

John Pruette, executive director at More at Four, said they are facing up to a 20 percent reduction, which could lower the number of children they are able to serve by up to 6,400. Furthermore, he said provisions require a parent’s co-pay at More at Four, so the poorest families would no longer seek access.

“Here is a program that has been more highly scrutinized than any other program in state government and has been proven to be effective and have significant impact in closing the achievement gap for the state’s most at-risk students, yet this proposal seeks to change all of that,” he said.

Rob Thompson, executive director of N.C. Covenant for Children, agrees.

“Whenever you’re talking about substantial cuts to public schools, you’re always going to be negatively impacting the achievement gap. Certainly low-income students in public school systems rely a lot more on them for education,” he said. “Based on these cuts, the education system is not going to work the same as it used to, particularly in cities that are poor or counties that are poor that rely more heavily on state dollars than local funding.”

Republican leaders say they have to start reducing the deficit to prevent that burden in the future.

“The Democrats’ leadership choices was rather than cut back on services to match up funding with our state services, they took free money from the Feds, let the federal deficit run up more knowing that the money was going to run out, but just continuing as if the money was going to be there,” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, chairman of the education committee.

“We need to cut back on spending to get it more in line with revenue. As our revenues grow back, we can expand on services we think are most important.”

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