McCrory As the Easter Bunny
Our mercurial governor, Pat McCrory, still keeps us guessing as to what kind of leader he will be for our state. The former moderate Republican mayor of Charlotte once championed public transportation, business recruitment and urban development. But a gubernatorial campaign funded by right-wing underwriter Art Pope leant a tea-party vibe to his platform, with rants about immigration reform, regressive taxation and a rejection of the Affordable Care Act.
When he named Pope his budget director, he gave a strong clue as to where his priorities lay.
But the 2013 budget the two put together is a mixed bag of fiscal prudence, conservative ideology and more than a few Easter eggs.
In the education sector alone, the mixed messages are enough to make one’s head spin.
McCrory, a former teacher, has suggested a 1 percent pay raise across the board for all state employees, including teachers, and 1,800 new teacher hires to bolster the state’s pre-K ranks.
IN THEEDUCATION SECTOR ALONE OF MCCRORY’S BUDGET, THE MIXED MESSAGES ARE ENOUGH TOMAKE ONE’S HEAD SPIN.
And yet $138 million gets slashed from the University of North Carolina System budget, with an additional $100 million or so in cuts coming next year — this after the system has seen some $400 million in budget cuts in the last two years.
McCrory took some flak back in February when he criticized the system for focusing on “elite” liberal arts programs instead of “what business and commerce needs to get our kids’ jobs,” as if our state university system, the envy of the nation, was a vocational education program.
Now, it’s possible that the system could lose one or two schools, demonstrating that education of the type that we are best known for in North Carolina is not a priority for this administration.
Locally, the pain would be felt in High Point, where the biannual International Home Furnishings Market would see a drop in state support, losing $55,000 this year and then another $850,000 or so the next, cutting the funding for the city’s largest economic enterprise in half.
Out in the hinterlands, the money will be drying up as well.
McCrory’s budget cuts $10 million from the $16 million apportioned to the NC Rural Economic Development Center, and pulls $65 million that comes from Golden LEAF, which uses settlement money from tobacco lawsuits to spark economic development in poor areas.
On the plus side, he’d start a savings account: $400 million or so a year into a “rainy day” fund to be used at the state’s discretion.
And the projected budget also finally addresses a source of our collective shame: $10 million for the victims of the state’s sterilization program, which between 1929 and 1974 forever mutilated more than 7,500 of our citizens in the name of the people. It amounts to about $50,000 for each surviving victim — a pittance, true, compared to the indignities and pure malevolence of the deeds, but a matter that has long required some form of redress.
The $20.6 billion budget has something for everybody to hate — particularly devotees of the UNC system as well as those who have demonized pre-K education — but also a few choice pieces hidden among the tall grass like the sterilization settlement or the elimination of the state tax — a $52 million hit that reminds us that on Easter morning, there is a difference between a solid-chocolate bunny and a single jelly bean.
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