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Chris Fitzsimon: GOP lawmakers focused on jobs – eliminating them

By Chris Fitzsimon

Columnist

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Republicans took control of the General Assembly this year promising to focus on jobs. And now, two months after their budget was passed, it is clear they lived up to that promise.

They did focus on jobs— eliminating them, thousands of them, from classrooms, courthouses and college campuses across the state.

It’s hard to come up with an exact number of job losses caused by the budget that took effect July 1, but piecing together media reports and official announcements, the total is approaching 5,000 and growing every day.

It is growing by small numbers, seven people laid off at the Iredell County Smart Start office and by larger ones, like 90 people fired at UNC-Greensboro as 275 positions were eliminated.

And despite claims otherwise by GOP leaders, the job losses are sweeping through public school classrooms too. Catawba County Schools cut 38 teachers and teacher assistants, Union County cut 97, and at last count Wilkes County Schools had cut 20.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools cut 118 teaching jobs and 218 positions overall. Virtually every school system has slashed support personnel, the people who make it possible for teachers to do their jobs.

The handful of school systems that managed to avoid cutting teachers did it by using leftover federal stimulus money, the funds that Republicans railed against for the last two years.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger blasted Democrats early in this year’s legislative session for “patching the budget holes with federal stimulus money.”

Many of the budget holes that were patched were teacher salaries.

Democrats decided to use one-time federal money in the last two years to keep teachers in classrooms with the hope that this year’s General Assembly would find the money to keep them.

Instead Republicans chose to cut taxes and lay off teachers. And now they are praising school systems that had some federal money left to avoid layoffs, the very practice that Berger and his Republican colleagues condemned the year before.

But counties with money to protect teachers have been the exception not the rule in the devastation created by the budget passed in June. And the layoffs go far beyond the classroom and university campuses.

The courts have lost prosecutors, clerks and victim’s assistants. The N.C. Teaching Fellows was wiped out and all state funding for drug treatment courts was abolished.

Dozens of jobs in programs that helped train and develop teachers were lost as those programs were also eliminated.

And these are actual numbers, people and positions, not projections of job losses to come. A report from the N.C. Budget and Tax Center in June found that the $2 billion taken out of the Medicaid program by the new state budget will costs the state more than 13,000 jobs in the health care industry.

The report projects total job losses caused by the Republican budget to top 30,000 this year, not to mention the $1.3 billion in lost wages for workers and $2.8 billion in lost industry output.

That study used the same methodology as one conducted by researchers at UNC that was often cited by Republicans to project how many jobs would be created by the tax cuts in the budget. The study’s authors admitted that they did not factor in the jobs that would be lost because of the deep budget cuts.

The Budget and Tax Center looked at both tax reductions and spending cuts. That’s where the estimate of 30,000 jobs lost comes from. In other words, the layoffs have only just begun.

We should have known. The new legislative leaders told us in January it would be a job session of the General Assembly.

It was quite a job session indeed.

Chris Fitzsimon is director of NC Policy Watch