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@NCCapitol

Dems, GOP spar over depth of budget cuts

Posted April 28, 2011 8:33 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2011 12:50 p.m. EDT

NC House Democrats held a press conference today on the GOP budget proposal that passed House Appropriations yesterday. 

House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said the proposed cuts would cost more than 20,000 state jobs - more than 18,000 in education alone, according to the Department of Public Instruction.  

The Democrats cited estimates from DPI that the House GOP budget plan would cut 3,700 teachers, 8,900 teaching assistants, 1,100 custodians, and more than 550 assistant principals. Textbook funding would be cut by 68%, classroom supplies by 42%, and dropout prevention programs would be zeroed out.  Those numbers don't include jobs losses at the local level as school boards seek to deal with $40 million in "negative reserve" cuts.

Hackney called the budget plan a "radical shock" that would have "a severe and profound impact" on NC schools. "We've never had anything like this in North Carolina before, to take this kind of a hatchet to public education," he said. 

Dems called on GOP leaders to reconsider letting temporary sales and income taxes expire on schedule June 30th.  Republicans have said they will not extend the $1.4 billion taxes. 

“I think most folks are not going to know when that one-cent sales tax comes off June 30th,” said Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Madison. “But the difference it could make to our education system, to our health and mental health programs across the board, would be critical. And we would not be having the conversation that we’re having today about the draconian cuts that we’re facing.”

Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, agreed with Hackney. “I think more people are going to be concerned about the services they’re going to lose as opposed to that penny that they’re going to save. When people see the services that they were counting on are not there, they’ll rethink that,” Adams said.

Hackney conceded Republicans had campaigned on letting the tax expire. But he doesn’t believe the temporary tax was the deciding factor in the 2010 elections, which he said were subject to external forces that had nothing to do with individual campaigns.

“When you serve as a legislator, you need to be able to adapt to what you see after you see the damage you’re about to do. So the wise course of action for a legislator is to say, do we really want to go through with this much damage?”

“To take 310,000 loss of jobs for this recession,” Hackney continued, “and add another projected at least 25,000 on top of that, just when we’re entering a time of recovery, is not smart.”

When asked about promises that the temporary tax would be temporary, Hackney said no one contemplated the recession would last so long. “I don’t believe promises were made that it would come off at any particular time.”

Hackney also called the proposed 22% cut to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources "draconian." 

"The environmental cuts will be very damaging to our air and water here in North Carolina," Hackney said. "The jobs in DENR are mostly just people administering permits, looking after our water and our air. Their ability to do their jobs will be severely compromised if this budget goes into effect." 

Watch the whole press conference here: 

GOP: Cuts "exaggerated"

Meantime, Republicans say Democrats are wildly exaggerating the extent of budget cuts to raise support for extending the temporary taxes. 

House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, argued the total number of positions cut from education is 11,000, less than the annual turnover in that agency. "Almost everyone who wants to keep a job will get to keep a job. Most of it will happen through attrition or retirement."  

But the budget also includes a special provision that takes away priority re-hiring status for educators who've been downsized. When asked about it, Stam said he wasn't familiar with that provision.  

Stam said  the GOP's proposed cuts are far from "draconian." He says they're somewhere between 4 and 5 percent of current-year spending in education, and 6 to 7 percent of spending in the budget overall.  

He also said that the biggest beneficiaries of the budget will be everyday families, who will see "a billion and a half dollars of tax rate reduced, mostly sales tax," when the temporary taxes expire. 

The cost of the penny tax to the median family has been estimated at around 80 dollars a year, give or take a few dollars. But even with the new and increased fees proposed in the House budget, Stam said, "Most families will come out to the better by 10 times more."