No real debate was allowed when the Republican majority and five renegade Democrats in the House voted in the middle of the night to override Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto of the regressive Republican budget. That’s not an accident, rather the latest display of the Republicans’ heavy-handed tactics this year.
House Minority Leader Joe Hackney and House Majority Leader Paul Stam were given three minutes each to speak. Hackney talked eloquently about the damage the budget will do to public schools, community colleges and the UNC system.
He cited a report from the N.C. Budget & Tax Center that shows the tax cuts in the Republican budget could create as many as 14,000 jobs in the next two years but the massive spending cuts and the loss of federal funding they would trigger would result in the loss of 45,000 public and private sector jobs.
That’s a net loss of more than 30,000 jobs when the state unemployment is still hovering near ten percent.
Stam used his time to try to minimize the differences in spending between the Republican budget and Perdue’s plan, calling the spending disparity barely discernible, which will come as news to the thousands of teachers, teacher assistants and other state employees who lose their jobs. It couldn’t be more discernible to them.
Stam mentioned job numbers too, but only the ones created by the budget not the ones lost. He cited a study by the UNC Center for Competitive Economies that looked at the employment impact of the tax cuts in the House budget but did not address the impact of the cuts.
The Budget and Tax Center report used exactly the same methodology as the UNC study and looked at both sides of the equation, a point missing from much of the media coverage of the misleading budget claims.
In the end, the real number of jobs lost didn’t seem to matter much to Republicans and the handful of Democrats, even as some of the teachers who will be fired watched the vote from the gallery above the House floor.
Right-wing ideology trumped the teachers and the students they serve like it is trumping almost everything this session.
All but lost in the lack of debate and the “he said she said” coverage of the budget claims are the people behind those numbers, people who don’t realize what happened this week in the General Assembly and people who will suffer because of the vote in the dark of the night.
We know some of their names, teachers and teacher assistants who have already received their pink slips even as House Speaker Thom Tillis keeps saying no teachers or teacher assistants will be fired.
But most of the people who will suffer because of this budget we don’t know. They don’t appear at rallies and press conferences. They are not interviewed in the newspaper or on the six o’clock news. They are just trying to make it every day and they now have a lot less help.
It’s not hard to imagine who they are. Think about a first grader in Currituck County, struggling to read in an ever expanding class and turning for help to a teacher assistant who is no longer there.
Or a mother in Bladen County who discovers an odd chemical smell in the creek behind her house but the Department of Environment and Natural Resources no longer has anybody who can investigate to figure out if it is still safe for her son to play there.
Think about a young bank teller in Cornelius, struggling with an addiction, who is arrested and sent to prison instead of treatment because the drug court and its award-winning rehabilitation program is abolished in the Republican budget.
Or the 75-year-old grandmother whose eyes have changed and needs new glasses but will never get them because Medicaid stopped paying for vision care after the pie in the sky Medicaid savings in the budget never materialized.
There are hundreds of thousands of more people who will suffer now, an at risk 4-year-old who will be turned away by More at Four, a troubled eighth-grader with no counselor left at school to talk to about the emotional abuse at home, a teacher assistant laid off in a county where the people looking for work outnumber the jobs available by ten to one.
Real people were hurt this week by the General Assembly and real people were fired too, thousands of them, their lives changed forever.
Opportunities for kids were denied, second chances for adults were wiped out.
That’s the real story of the decision by the Republican majority and the five rogue Democrats this week in the General Assembly. And it is a disgrace.
Chris Fitzsimon is director of NC Policy Watch