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NC scholars speak out against 'destructive' GOP policies

Posted March 28, 2013 10:41 p.m. EDT
Updated March 28, 2013 10:42 p.m. EDT

— Educators from colleges and universities across the state gathered in Durham Thursday evening to speak out against Republican-backed policy changes and decisions made by the General Assembly that they say could hurt North Carolina. 

In a standing room only meeting on Duke University's campus, the Scholars for a Progressive North Carolina touched on dozens of topics, including Medicaid expansion and the state's education system.

"As scholars, what especially concerns us is that the new legislature seems bent on enacting policies that are most wholly unsupported by any serious research," Dr. Lisa Levenstein, a professor at UNC Greensboro, said.

Dr. David Jolly, a professor at North Carolina Central University, pointed to the recent decision by lawmakers not to expand the state's Medicaid program with federal money. 

"Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would provide health care coverage to 500,000 low-income citizens who are currently uninsured," Jolly said. 

House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake County, said decisions Republican lawmakers have made on Medicaid and other issues line up with promises made in their campaigns. 

"Our Medicaid, which is the second biggest part of our budget, will be expanded this year," he said. "We just can't handle an extra 500,000 people being added to the rolls. The things that are in our platform, people expect us to do them. And so when we do them, they act surprised."

With a majority in the state House and Senate and the sitting governor in Pat McCrory, Republican leaders have been able to move legislation from idea to law more quickly this spring than in recent memory.

A bill to change unemployment benefits and another to limit the authority individuals communities have over housing design moved quickly.

Lawmakers are also considering the possibility of eliminating one or two campuses in the University of North Carolina system, a top Senate budget-writer said last week. Gov. Pat McCrory called for a $135 million cut in funding for the UNC system in the 2013-14 budget proposal he rolled out on March 20. 

"The state of North Carolina needs a strong public education system," Dr. Helen Ladd, a professor at Duke, said. "Without one, we'll be wasting our most precious resource: our people."

Other scholars in attendance Thursday said they don't believe Republican policies will help the state in the future. 

"There's one direction, one vision, one set of priorities," Dr. Robert Korstad, a professor at Duke, said. "I don't think in the long term those will be beneficial for the state."

Stam disagreed, saying recent decisions are "sound policy desired by a clear majority of North Carolinians."

Dr. Gunter Peck, a professor at Duke, said SPNC officials want GOP leaders to reconsider "their irrational and self-destructive opposition to environmental protection and conservation in our beautiful state."