Local Politics

House looks to slash education, human services budgets

Posted May 27, 2009 12:50 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2009 7:08 p.m. EDT

State budget

— Lawmakers wrestling with a projected $4.5 billion budget deficit are considering deep cuts across most state agencies, with education  and human services taking the biggest hits.

Proposals working their way through House budget-writing committees call for slashing education funding by $1.8 billion through a combination of layoffs, furloughs and tuition increases.

Suggested cuts include eliminating teacher assistants in third-grade classrooms and increasing class sizes statewide by two students. Lawmakers said larger classes translate into fewer teachers.

"We're looking at probably 6,000 to 8,000 teachers that we will not have to hire next year," said Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Madison, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "These are last-resort measures that we're taking, but that's the only way we can get anywhere close to having a budget that's balanced."

The House Education Committee has recommended five-day furloughs for public school teachers and employees and nine-day furloughs for faculty and staff members at community colleges and public universities statewide.

Committee members also proposed raising community college and public university tuition by 8 percent.

Money from the federal economic stimulus package will cover about $500 million to $600 million of the proposed cuts, lawmakers said.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has mounted an online campaign against budget cuts.

The group's Web site declares, "We're at war," and asks educators to wear red on what they call "War Wednesdays" to show their commitment to the cause.

Lawmakers also are considering $1.4 billion in cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services, including $55 million from a program that helps elderly people remain in their homes instead of going to assisted-living facilities or nursing homes.

"I don't want to go to a nursing home. Lord knows, I don't want to go to a nursing home," Raleigh resident Ida Davis said.

The 81-year-old woman, who suffers from congestive heart failure and arthritis, said she is able to live at home because a nursing aide helps her out for two hours a day, five days a week.

"Without her, I don't know what I would do," Davis said.

Some lawmakers said the proposed DHHS cuts would force Davis and thousands of other state residents into nursing homes.

"The $4.5 billion deficit that our state is facing, it doesn't just cut to the bone. It's hitting marrow," said Rep. Ty Harrell, D-Wake.

The House could vote on its budget proposal as early as June 10, and House and Senate representatives would then work out a compromise budget for approval.