Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina's Legislative Black Caucus is calling on Republican leaders to come to an agreement on a budget – and to ensure that the spending plan doesn't cut services for low-income families.
At a news conference Thursday, caucus leader Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, called Wednesday's contentious budget hearings a "sideshow."
"We've had six months to work these budget proposals out, and still, here we are July 10 with no end in sight, it appears," Pierce said. "It's really ludicrous to talk about being here at Christmas when this should have been worked out before now."
"Let's stop walking out of rooms," said Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake. "Let's start talking to each other."
Caucus members expressed outrage that cuts to teaching assistants, after-school programs and Medicaid services could be under consideration as House and Senate leaders look for ways to pay for wage increases for teachers and state employees.
"It appears, from all we see now, that the budget is going to be balanced on the back of these most vulnerable people in our society, and the Legislative Black Caucus, along with other leaders and our Democrats, they have a real issue with that," said Pierce.
Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson, said after-school programs provide supervision and education, keeping children safe while their parents work. Without the programs, he said, some parents may have to give up hours or even second jobs.
"We’re talking about families, mothers and fathers who are out there working," Graham said. "This service gives them the opportunity to go to their job, provide a level income to their families. Now, what will happen when these families no longer have that service?"
Graham also decried the Senate's proposed cuts to teaching assistants, saying Robeson County would lose funding for 117 positions.
"Our rural counties cannot afford to pick up that cost," he said.
Holley asked Republican leaders to reconsider tax cuts passed in 2013 that contributed to a revenue shortfall this year of nearly $500 million. More cuts are set to take effect next year.
Without that shortfall, House senior budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said Wednesday, legislators wouldn't be struggling to pay for both teacher wage increases and teaching assistants.
"When is it OK to say, 'Maybe what we've done is gone a little too far, and it’s time to back up?'" Holley said. "I think the time to back up is now. I think we need to take a good hard look at what we’re doing to North Carolina, and say, 'Let’s slow this train down a little bit.'"
As of 1 p.m., neither House nor Senate budget conferees had called a meeting Thursday to offer a new compromise spending plan.