House and Senate Democrats kicked off a statewide tour today highlighting public sector job losses caused by cuts in the Republican-penned state budget.
Sixteen representatives and senators crowded into a small room at the State Employee Career Transition Center, a placement assistance center set up in June to help laid-off state workers find new jobs.
House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, opened the meeting. Hackney on Dem Tour
“House and Senate Democrats have been fighting all session for education and jobs policies that move North Carolina forward,” he said. “We’ve been confronted with a majority that pushes NC backward.”
“What has happened this session is cut, cut, cut,” he added.
The panel heard from ESC chief Lynn Holmes on the state’s current employment picture. Holmes said NC had 289,300 fewer jobs in August 2011 than it had in December 2007, when unemployment was at 5.0% - less than half the current rate of 10.4%. She said the state would have to add 4,822 net jobs per month for the next five years to get back to 5.0%.
Holmes also said $4.3 billion was paid out to unemployed North Carolinians from Sept. 2010 through August 2011. About $2.9 B was federal money, and $1.4 B came from the state. But NC only collected $1.225 B over that time period in unemployment insurance taxes, so the fund is falling behind.
State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison said with the LEA reversion and other cuts to various funds, the budget cut to K-12 education was closer to 9.3% this year than the 5.8% figure advanced by GOP leaders.
“For the first time since the Great Depression, North Carolina’s General Assembly has adopted a budget that sends education backward.” Harrison on education cuts
According to Harrison, cuts to K-12 education since 2008 have resulted in the loss of 6,384 positions statewide: 1,723 teaching positions, 2,282 teaching assistants, 124 assistant principals, and 2,253 other support positions.
He said about 4,000 more teachers are being paid out of leftover federal “Edujobs” funds that will run out next year.
Some Republican lawmakers have said local decision-makers, not state funding cuts, are to blame for teacher layoffs. Harrison called that claim "absolute nonsense."
“We do not have the resources to meet the needs of our students right now,” he said. “Next year will be worse unless something changes.”
Other speakers at the meeting included a Smart Start representative, a local pastor, a woman struggling to care for her disabled daughter, and a 5th-grade teacher from Millbrook Elementary, Elizabeth Monroe Whisenant, who talked about the results of personnel cuts at her school – “cuts that supposedly didn’t happen,” she said, referring to GOP statements that the budget cut no teachers.
“It’s infuriating,” she said.
The tour continued today in Rocky Mount, Winterville and New Bern. Stops tomorrow include Wilmington, Lumberton, and Fayetteville.
GOP: No solution
State Republican leaders were quick to dismiss the Democrats’ tour, calling it the “Tax Me More” tour.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger had this response to today’s events:
After opposing nearly every major jobs bill we passed this year, the only ‘solution’ these Democrats have offered to fix the economic mess they created is more taxes on our most vulnerable citizens. They’ve already tried that, and it didn’t work.
The “major jobs bills,” according to Berger spokesman Ray Martin, included a slate of reform bills, an offshore drilling bill vetoed by Governor Perdue, and sales tax and business tax cuts included in their budget. Few received support from Senate Democrats.
Letting the one-cent temporary sales tax lapse this summer means about $1 billion less flowing into state coffers.
Republicans say that billion dollars will flow into the private sector and create jobs there instead. When the budget was enacted, Tillis said he expected to see results within 6 months.