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Conflicting budget claims

Chris Fitzsimon

The budget debate shifts to the Senate this week, where subcommittees will begin reviewing the House proposal, though most senators ought to have a pretty good idea what’s in it. House and Senate budget writers met jointly for most of the session before the House broke away and met on its own for a few weeks to put its final plan together.

There was speculation that the Senate budget strategy had changed when five Democrats voted for the House budget, giving the Republicans a veto-proof majority if those Democrats continued to vote with Republicans and against their political party and their governor.

Senate leaders aren’t thrilled with parts of the House spending plan, especially the 15.5 percent cuts to the university system, but seemed willing to put that aside for the possibility of overriding a veto by Gov. Beverly Perdue.

But at least three of the five Democrats have said they were not likely to vote for the budget again unless changes were made, and Perdue said she was confident that the Democrats would support her in the fight with the legislative leadership.

That seemed to quiet the talk of a quick Senate budget process, and scheduled subcommittee meetings this week confirmed it. Senate leaders want to put their own stamp on the spending plan, and not just by reducing the cuts to the universities.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger says the Senate budget will spend significantly less overall than the draconian House plan, and reportedly the Senate budget target for health and human services is at least $60 million less than the House proposed in its budget that slashed mental health services by $60 million and assumed massive and unrealistic savings in Medicaid.

Several Republican senators want fewer cuts to public schools than the House leadership wants to make. Sen. Wesley Meredith says the House budget cut education too much.

Local school boards from Morehead City to Morganton agree, and many are urging lawmakers to restore the cuts even if it means leaving the 2009 temporary taxes in place.

Wake Superintendent Anthony Tata, the darling of the Republican establishment, has said publicly the House cuts to public schools are too deep and will mean the loss of 1,000 jobs in the Wake County system

Sen. Jerry Tillman, the education budget chair, says it is almost impossible for the House cuts not to reach the classrooms, directly contradicting the claims by House leaders that their education cuts stopped at the classroom door.

And that’s not the only assertion by House leaders in dispute. House Speaker Thom Tillis keeps defending the House budget that will eliminate more than 20,000 jobs by claiming that a study by the UNC Center for Competitive Economies proves that the tax cuts the House is proposing will actually create more than 19,000 jobs.

But as the N.C. Budget and Tax Center points out, the analysis only looked at half the story, ignoring the impact of the massive budget cuts and the public-sector layoffs it would force. The author of the study pointed that out in the cover letter of the report sent to Republican legislators, but the point never seems to show up in their public remarks.

Earlier this week, the folks at the John Locke Foundation, the ex-officio policy arm of the legislative leadership, tried to help by releasing a study commissioned from the right-wing Bunker Hill Institute that claims that the House tax changes will create 9,000 jobs by 2013.

That’s notable for two reasons. The job number is less than half the one that Tillis claims the UNC study shows and it comes from a source whose work has been discredited in states like Arizona, where one scholar said that the methodology was designed in a way that “biases the results toward the findings of very low impacts of government expenditures and very high impacts of tax increases.”

In other words, the Locke numbers, like the House claims about protecting classrooms, are simply not believable and are part of the frantic effort to defend a budget that is being widely criticized across the state for the damage it will do to education, human services and environmental protections.

Now it is the members of the Senate’s turn. Let’s hope they come to their senses and pass a budget that protects the state’s vital investments. The House has certainly left them an abundance of room for improvement.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.

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