Invest in people or cut taxes?

By: - June 21, 2005 5:39 am

The House and Senate are starting the annual process of working out the differences between the two chambers’ budgets and already the jockeying between leaders threatens to overlook the people who have the most at stake in a final budget agreement.

Senate Appropriations Co-Chair Kay Hagan made her priorities clear in a recent newsletter to constituents. Hagan said the two key differences between the House and Senate are that “the House invests less in public education and does not include the tax cuts for individuals or corporations that we have in the Senate budget.”

Education is easy to understand, but are tax cuts really the next most important thing? How about the 65,000 poor people who are aged, blind, or disabled that stand to lose services if Hagan and her Co-Chair Linda Garrou get their way?

Garrou defended the Senate budget recently by saying that the state” just has to get the costs of Medicaid under control.” That means apparently the Senate just has to cut services to the most vulnerable people in the state to pay for tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

The House made too many cuts to human service programs too and many of its education reductions are unwise, but at least House leaders decided not to force poor people into institutions by cutting off their in-home health care.

How sad a commentary on the political tone of the times that it seems like a victory when one chamber decides not to hurt the blind or disabled.

If Garrou and Hagan need a reminder of what is at stake, they ought to read a few of the state’s newspapers. The Salisbury Post told the story Sunday of several families waiting nervously for the final budget decisions.

Folks like Linda Worth, who takes care of her paralyzed 32-year-old son Eric in her home. Medicaid pays for two shifts of nurses, Linda does it the other eight hours, the time she is not working or sleeping. Eric’s care could cost more in an institution, but the Senate wants those tax cuts now, so he may have to go into a home anyway.

Yes! Weekly, a paper in Hagan’s hometown of Greensboro, has the story this week of 48-year old Teresa Staley, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and also receives care in her home, services that may end if the Senate budget cuts remain.

The two budget chairs and other Senate leaders keep justifying the cuts by claming that they have to cut taxes because the state is losing jobs to other states, that North Carolina is no longer competitive, especially with other states in the Southeast.

Monday, Southern Business and Development Magazine named North Carolina and Alabama as co-winners of the State of the Year award for economic development in the South.

State of the Year? Seems pretty competitive. Despite all the claims by NCCBI and others, the state’s tax system is not out of line. Forcing people into institutions to pay for tax cuts for folks who don’t need them, that’s what’s out of line and Senate leaders ought to stop defending it.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066