Friday, November 5, 2010

NC News: WRAL Reports on GOP and State Budget Cuts

WRAL Article: GOP warning of impending budget cuts alarms some

Posted: 5:43 p.m. yesterday
Updated: 6:34 p.m. yesterday
Top Republican lawmakers say their plans to balance the state budget next year solely through spending cuts will likely be painful for many people.

Fiscal analysts have projected a budget deficit of more than $3 billion, and Republican leaders in the General Assembly said after their election victories Tuesday that they want to reduce the budget to about $16 billion from the $19 billion spending plan passed in June.

House Minority Whip Thom Tillis, a potential candidate to become the next House speaker, said Wednesday that the cuts could lead to "legitimate, sad stories about people who may end up suffering."

Ellen Russell, director of advocacy and chapter support at The ARC of North Carolina, which serves people with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities, warned Thursday of the ripple effect from drastic state cuts.

"It is terrifying to us because there are 7,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on the waiting list (for service) in this state now," Russell said. "There are (also) a lot of people employed in the field of services for people with mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services."

In addition to eliminating nonprofit positions, there is also concern that cuts could lead to widespread layoffs among state workers.

Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said there are areas in the state budget that can be cut, but state jobs is not one of them.

"The folks who've been out of power who now assume power are going to have a good education in what it takes to run government," Cope said of the Republicans. "They will feel the wrath not only of public employees, but they're going to feel the wrath of taxpayers who have come to depend on those quality public services."

University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles even suggested that deep budget cuts could force the closure of one of the UNC system's 16 university campuses.

Staff at the campuses have been drafting budget scenarios for the UNC Board of Governors to give them options for cutting 5 to 10 percent of the system budget next year.

A 10 percent cut would be about $270 million, and Bowles said that would mean laying off about 1,800 faculty and staff members across the system.

Campuses would also have to increase class sizes and reduce the number of courses offered to handle the cuts, he said.

"Where it gets hard is if you have to go beyond that," he said. "Let's say we had a 20 to 30 percent cut. Then, you have to start looking at some real extremes. Are you better to really damage the entire quality across the board, or are you better off talking about closing down one campus?"

Bowles said such a move isn't being contemplated now, but it might be considered if proposed spending cuts become deeper.

The Board of Governors is expected to vote Friday on a budget proposal to send to lawmakers.

Reporters: Bruce Mildwurf, Erin Hartness
Photographers: Terry Cantrell, Pete James
Web Editor: Matthew Burns

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