By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Just as she promised in her State of the State address Monday night, Governor Bev Perdue on Thursday revealed a spending plan that would consolidate 14 agencies to eight, eliminate thousands of state jobs, offer two-year college scholarships to hardworking high school juniors and preserve the positions of public school teachers and assistants.
While her proposed $19.9 billion budget would drop the corporate income tax rate to 4.9 percent, one of the lowest in the nation, it would also keep most of the 1 cent temporary sales tax that Republicans have vowed to let expire. Many lawmakers had expected as much after hearing Monday’s speech in which the governor had said she would keep business incentives and would not tolerate deep cuts to education.
Her plan suggests eliminating or reorganizing nearly 200 state-supported programs which would bring an end to about 5,000 state jobs. Another 4,000 would fall to mandated cuts at state agencies, and an early retirement offer would likely cut 1,000 more. The governor’s budget would also close state parks and welcome centers for two days each week and include reductions in Medicaid benefits. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund would be slashed by $50 million, and schools would lose at least a third of textbook funding as well as a number of non-classroom personnel.
Funding for the state University system would be cut by only 6 percent and community colleges would also fare well under Perdue’s plan — not surprising considering the tone of her State of the State address.
“The leaders in this room tonight have a decision to make: invest in our students or cross your fingers and hope for the best,” she said Monday night, emphasizing the importance of an educated and prepared workforce.
Perdue outlined her plans for North Carolina’s Career and College Promise, explaining that the program would allow any high school junior who meets certain criteria and maintains high academic standards to be awarded a two-year college degree at no cost.
“The students of the Career and College Promise will have a new reason to stay in school,” she said, “because for what may be the first time for many of them or their families, they will have a clear, attainable path to success.”
Also in Monday’s address, the state’s top Democratic official told the Republican held House and Senate that she had already made “deep and painful cuts” and would avoid partisan politics as she listened to further suggestions for eliminating wasteful spending. But she vowed she would not cut teacher positions, a statement that garnered loud applause, as did her call for lower corporate income taxes.
Less popular among some lawmakers was her announcement that she intended to keep business incentives, which critics say don’t often translate into jobs.
Nonetheless, the governor painted a picture of optimism for the Tar Heel state, telling lawmakers and others in the Senate Chamber on Valentine’s Day evening that North Carolina is in a much better place than it was two years ago when state leaders feared the “potential collapse of the very foundations” on which the state was built.
“We stood at the precipice of economic disaster. The stock market was in tatters. Construction in North Carolina had come to a screeching halt. Business profits were down. And companies were closing their doors ….” she said. “We stood on the edge of a cliff …. But, my friends, we did not give up.”
Now, she said, “We are winning the game,” with a nearly 1.5 percent drop in the unemployment rate, and pledges from businesses to create 58,000 jobs and invest $12.5 billion. She also credited leaders’ tough decisions to cut services, furlough workers and freeze salaries for the turnaround and admitted that there is still a long way to go.
She highlighted the state’s necessity to recruit new companies like Clearwater Paper, which plans to invest $260 million in a plant in Shelby and eventually employ 250 people, and the need to provide tax breaks for companies like LSG Printing which virtually reinvented itself to survive the recession. She also introduced her audience to Brian Crump, a laid-off furniture factory worker who turned to Catawba Valley Community College for training to become a paramedic, and to Jennifer Facciolini of Midway High School in Newton Grove, North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year.
“Certainly, the governor’s 325-page budget will give lawmakers plenty to pore over as they try to come up with the best way for the Tar Heel state to begin digging out of debt and establishing a more solid financial basis for job growth,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We urge Christians across the state to pray for our leaders on a daily basis as they grapple with some tough decisions.”