Last Wednesday, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a budget that effectively brings North Carolina’s per pupil funding to 49th in the nation. The only state that funds students to a lesser degree is Utah. You will find some in the state who are proud of this fact. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis named the day his chamber passed the budget into law, the “happiest day of his life.” John Hood, President of the John Locke Foundation, wrote an op-ed in the Laurinburg Exchange titled, “Bad Bet,” that labels Governor Perdue and those Democrats who opposed the budget as “Chicken Littles.” “The wild claims of generational damage,” states Hood,”…will look ridiculous over the coming year.”
But Mr. Hood is horribly mistaken. This budget does not simply tighten our state’s metaphorical belt, it completely guts everything that makes North Carolina a leader in the South. With cuts of $459 million to K-12 education, we roll back our state’s long-time investment in our children’s education. With cuts of $414 million to the UNC system, we increase the tuition burden on North Carolina families while cutting financial aid. And by eliminating Drug Court, Sentencing Services, and shutting down two Youth Detention Centers, we are taking away the very programs which help keep people out of prison and our communities safe.
The NC Budget and Tax Center, a non-partisan research group, estimates this budget will cost the state 30,000 jobs. While the real damage from this budget has yet to be seen, it has already hit home in Scotland County with upwards of 94 employees of Scotland County Schools being sent home for the summer with pink slips. The radical leadership in the General Assembly labels their budget “An Act to Spur the Creation of Private Sector Jobs,” but like much in politics, theirs is a game of smoke and mirrors. Think about the impact on small businesses in downtown Laurinburg with 94 fewer wage earners in the county. This is not an act to create jobs, it does the exact opposite. And the ripple effects will be disastrous.
Mr. Hood’s op-ed challenges that Governor Perdue was both unwilling to negotiate with the General Assembly and that she was out of touch with the voters of North Carolina. The reality of the situation in Raleigh was that our governor was very willing to negotiate with the state legislature. But rather than consult her as they crafted their budget, the radical Republican leadership in the House and Senate met behind closed doors. In fact, both the initial vote to pass the budget in the House of Representatives and the second vote to override Perdue’s veto were held after midnight. This budget, passed in the middle of the night with little concern for input from North Carolinians, is not a budget of which to be proud – it is a slap in the face of every North Carolinian who has worked to promote public education throughout this state.
The most distressing aspect of the state budget debate this year was that there was a simple solution to our dilemma. By simply keeping taxes exactly where they were, and not cutting the sales tax by 1 cent, the legislature could have cut our state deficit by 50%. And all estimates show that North Carolinians supported this move by a wide majority. Three different polls conducted between February and May showed that North Carolinians supported maintaining the current sales tax rate between 72 percent and 78 percent.
The responsible thing for our state’s leaders to have done was to leave our revenue stream intact. But that course was not taken. The prudent thing for our state’s leaders to have done was to close the tax loopholes that make local businesses pay taxes, but give multi-state corporations a way out of paying any at all. But that course was not taken. The fiscally conservative thing for our state’s leaders to have done was to make cuts where necessary without drastically reducing the funds our state has to work with. But that course was not taken. The reactionary extremists now controlling the reins of government in the General Assembly decided that the only direction to go was backwards.
Scotland County should be proud of our Governor that she stood up to this draconian budget. Scotland County should be proud of Senator Bill Purcell and Representative Garland Pierce who voted against this backwards measure. But Scotland County should really rethink whether Representative G.L. Pridgen’s support of this budget was in any of our best interests.
Pridgen’s predecessor, Doug Yongue, was a staunch advocate for public education. But Representative Pridgen voted both to defund education and to allow unregulated expansion of charter schools. In his newsletter from May 19th, Pridgen writes, “To sum up the budget, we fully fund teachers and provide enough funding to protect all local education jobs.” I guarantee you that the 94 Scotland County Schools employees currently jobless would challenge his claim.
The beauty of the democracy in which we live is that we always have a chance to reevaluate our leaders at the ballot box. It is my firm hope that Scotland County and the rest of North Carolina can weather the tough times imposed by this budget without much hardship, but I fear we may not be so lucky. We should thank our Governor for her courageous actions on the state budget, and thank Senator Purcell and Representative Pierce also. But if you value education as a right, and if you believe that a brighter future for our children is only gained by investing in them now, please reconsider putting your faith in Representative G.L. Pridgen in November. Simply too much is at stake not to.
Brooks is a native of Laurinburg and a “proud graduate” of Scotland High School.