Governor’s budget meets opposition

Published 9:42 am Tuesday, April 2, 2013

WINTON – Hertford County Commissioner Howard Hunter III isn’t pleased with what he’s hearing coming out of Raleigh.

And he wants Governor Pat McCrory and other state leaders to be aware of his concerns.

At Monday’s regularly scheduled board meeting, Hunter, who also serves as President of the North Carolina County Commissioners Association (NCCCA), led a discussion on governor’s proposed new budget as well as McCrory’s decision to cut a portion of state lottery funding earmarked for school construction.

In the end, Hunter got what he was looking for, a resolution from the commissioners in opposition of some elements of the governor’s budget.

“During the NCCCA annual legislative goals conference, Governor McCrory said, and I quote, “There’s no new money; we have to work with the means we have. We’ve got to rebuild private sector jobs, representing big cites and small towns alike. There are a lot of main streets hurting right now….they are boarded up, businesses are shut down, factories closing, neighborhoods are on the decline. Once it starts it’s hard to regain the momentum. We have to figure out a strategy to reverse the exodus. We’ve got work to do. We have to figure out an economic development plan. We are not competing successfully with our neighboring states. Businesses can go across the border and save a lot of money. We are looking at the pros and the cons,” Hunter cited.

Hunter added that McCrory, in his “State of the State” address, said, “Our biggest challenge is to develop a strategy for small towns across North Carolina that have been hit hard by the recession. There are too many people hurting in these small towns.”

“Well, after his budget proposal from what I have read, does the governor recall what he said to us (NCCCA) during our meeting in Durham,” Hunter stated in a puzzling manner on Monday. “Or is the governor just telling us what we want to hear. There are 80 rural counties across North Carolina and his budget leaves us behind.”

To drive home the point of his last statement, Hunter said the governor’s proposed budget cuts $10 million over the next two years from the North Carolina Rural Center, with those funds redirected to the state’s General Fund.

“The Rural Center already works with small towns and counties, and their work is linked to job creation,” Hunter remarked. “Without these funds we will lack the financial incentives to recruit businesses and industry. (These funds are) critical if the state expects job growth in the future. As he said, we’re not competing with our neighboring states, so how in the world does he expect us to compete if he’s cutting the Rural Center by 10 million dollars.

“Every project we’ve done over the years, the money has come from the Rural Center or Golden Leaf,” Hunter continued. “Golden Leaf has also been cut 65 million dollars by the governor’s proposal  with that money redirected to the state’s General Fund. Economically this makes no sense.”

Hunter added that the governor’s budget proposal for education includes cutting $80 million from lottery proceeds earmarked for construction projects, meaning Hertford County’s share of that loss will total $161,000. He said the governor will permanently divert the corporate sales tax funds, set aside for school construction, at a loss of $75 million.

“Plus, teacher assistants will only be funded for kindergarten and first grade,” Hunter added to his discussion about McCrory’s proposal. “Community colleges across the state will lose a total of $33.1 million; Human Services will lose $2.6 million in county daycare administration funds; he’s reducing $85.6 million in Medicaid for hospitals, and did not approve Medicaid expansion for North Carolina.”

“We’ve also heard the governor wants to close seven Employment Security Commission offices in northeastern North Carolina,” Hunter noted. “I guess the thinking there is to leave everything east of I-95 to the buzzards.”

On the positive side, Hunter said the governor has proposed to restore the Drug Core Treatment program, replacing equipment at state labs, reassigning Department of Justice attorneys, and saving $20 million by closing a few rural detention centers.

Hunter proposed that Hertford County adopt a resolution in opposition of losing the lottery funds, RuralCenter and Golden Leaf funding.

“Losing these funds hurts rural counties like us,” Hunter said. “I’ll put that in the form of a motion (to adopt such resolution).”

Commissioner Ronald Gatling seconded the motion, which was approved by a 4-0 vote (Chairman Curtis Freeman was absent from the meeting). The resolution will be sent to the governor and copies mailed to the NCCCA, Representative Annie Mobley and Senator Clark Jenkins.

Following the vote, Hunter said Phil Berger (R-Guilford), President Pro Tempore of the NC Senate, is scheduled to introduce a plan that will cut tenure for public school teachers statewide.

“We already have a shortage of teachers in our state; I think (Berger’s plan) will make it worse,” Hunter said. “I urge each of you to contact someone at the General Assembly level and speak out against his plan.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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