By N.C. Rep. Craig Horn
After 10 hours of debate in the N.C. House Appropriations Committee and another 10 hours of debate on the House floor, the N.C. House of Representatives passed a nearly $20 billion budget (for years 2011-12 and 2012-13) on May 4.
This was the first time in memory that not only did the House pass the biennial budget this soon, but also that it was available to millions of N.C. taxpayers for four days before debate even began. This may have been the most open and accessible budget process this state has ever seen.
For me, it was an amazing, frustrating and challenging process. But from the beginning, budget decisions were made in an open fashion, and all votes on all specific budget proposals were taken in public. In the final analysis, the total spending cut from last year was 6.5 percent, not exactly the “draconian” slashing being bantered about by some.
The budget has, of course, generated much discussion, many questions and no few slings and arrows. There has been a lot of misinformation circulated, as well as a lot of facts. That is all to be expected. But let me give you an overview from my perspective.
The House budget represents the single-biggest tax cut in North Carolina history. We balanced the budget without increasing tax rates and restored more $1.5 billion into the private sector. We funded every teaching position in the state to the fullest level and fully funded teachers-assistant positions for kindergarten and first grade. We gave school superintendents the flexibility to save dollars where they can, rather than making every local spending decision in Raleigh. We avoided shifting costs to the local counties for worker’s compensation, tort claims and school bus replacement, as proposed in the governor’s recommendation. We provided $3.7 million to pay for liability insurance for public school personnel and provided $1 million for a series of education reform studies. We also eliminated certain reporting requirements in an effort to reduce unnecessary paperwork at the school level and extended school-district budgetary flexibility, allowing the transfer of funds to better manage budget reductions. The total cut in K-12 spending by the state was 9.6 percent, not the “slash-and-burn” cuts described by some. We cut community college funding by 10.1 percent and the UNC System by 15.5 percent.
In Health and Human Services, our budget reductions were achieved through savings with NO loss of services. We maximized the swapping of federal block grant funds for state funds. All Health and Human Services’ treatment facilities, schools and mental health hospitals and contract beds were preserved.
We created a new Department of Public Safety that combines the departments of Crime Control & Public Safety, Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention and Corrections. We eliminated more than 800 vacant positions and reduced administrative costs in all six agencies.
We increased funding by $670 million over the two-year budget for road maintenance and construction in our existing system and began the process of removing politics from transportation funding that had put Union County 97th out of 100 for state road dollars.
We eliminated 17 positions in the General Assembly and 13 positions in the governor’s office. We achieved a 23 percent savings in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and provided nonrecurring funds to promote job creation and economic development.
The budget is now in the Senate for its review and adjustment. We are hopeful that senators too will pass the budget out in the same fashion as the House and that we will have it on the governor’s desk by early June.
As I said, this has been one of the most difficult issues that I have ever encountered. There were few good choices and no good alternatives. I took no joy in voting to cut jobs and services. I am very aware that everyone is a real person, a family and a loved one. But I take great pride in our achievement. We made a promise to the voters of North Carolina, and we kept it. In a state where families have for the last three years had to tighten their belts with real cuts of 10, 20 and 30 percent to their own budgets, North Carolina has begun the process of “right-sizing” for our available resources and restoring sound conservative fiscal management to our state. This was not accomplished without pain and great difficulty, but we played the cards that we were dealt to the best of our collective abilities.
We continued work on the State Health Plan, and it is on its way to the governor. We passed comprehensive annexation reform with 102-to-13 bipartisan support. We are working hard on worker’s compensation and tort reform, and we are continuing to debate House Bill 854, the “Woman’s Right to Know Act.” I am focusing much of my available time on House Bill 881, a jobs and manufacturing bill to help return manufacturing to North Carolina, and on a bill to stop the proliferation of deadly methamphetamine labs that are costing our state millions of dollars and hundreds of lives.
Please continue to share your views and suggestions with me. You can follow me on Facebook; Twitter; my website, www.CraigHorn.com; or through the legislative website, www.ncleg.net (click on House and then on House Information where I am listed by name). Your views are important to me. Don’t let me make a decision with my head in a sack.
Craig Horn represents House District 68, from Union County, in the General Assembly.