Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cuts alone won’t fix our budget crisis

Cuts alone won’t fix our budget crisis

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
By Edwin McLenaghan

North Carolina has a revenue problem. Falling revenues created by an outdated tax system and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression have created a much-publicized budget shortfall - and some shortsighted parties want to try to cut our way out of the problem.

Most people know that cutting vital public investments will cause great pain throughout North Carolina's communities and imperil our economic future. But what many don't know is that even the most drastic cuts-only approaches currently being explored by Governor Beverly Perdue will not close the state's budget gap.

There is just one possible conclusion: raising revenue is the only way to preserve critical investments in North Carolina's future.

The numbers are clear. The most recent estimates by the General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division show that anticipated revenues will fall $3.7 billion short of what is necessary to maintain this year's already-inadequate level of investments in public structures in next year's budget.

To assess potential solutions, Governor Perdue asked state agencies to examine what budget cuts would look like. Even the worst-case budget cut scenarios of 10 percent for public schools, community colleges, and universities and 15 percent for all other state agencies will come up $1.1 billion short of closing the state's $3.7 billion estimated revenue shortfall next year.

That's right: in order to "fix" the budget problem, we'd have to slash the crucial investments that create prosperity in North Carolina to a worse-than-worst-case level.

What if we went that extra step, and tried to close the budget gap with a cuts-only approach? Closing the shortfall with additional cuts to non-education agencies would force across-the-board cuts of 27 percent compared to this year and more than one-third compared to pre-recession levels.

If those sound like just numbers, think of those numbers as thousands of fired teachers, mental health workers, and gutted public safety infrastructure. Think of people with special needs who will be separated from their families, seniors and people with disabilities who can't get health care, and children with swollen class sizes and shrinking learning opportunities.

Cuts of this magnitude would jeopardize long-term investments in North Carolina's public structures and would compromise public safety, environmental protection, and the health of communities across the state.

This would not only be cruel, it would be counter-productive to the state's long-term health - fiscal and otherwise. Creating thousands of unemployed schoolteachers and public safety workers is a precisely backwards way to fix our state's revenue problem, now or in the long term.

Fortunately, there is another way. We need to take a balanced approach that recognizes the need to reform our outdated revenue system.

Comprehensive revenue reform could raise even more revenue and preserve many of the public investments in initiatives like Smart Start, More At Four, smaller class sizes, and community-based care that North Carolinians overwhelmingly support and that save the state money in the long run.

It would also make future budget crises easier to manage, because reform could modernize a system that hasn't been updated since the 1930s. What better time to make these long-overdue reforms then a time when they could help our state the most?

A cuts-only budget approach isn't just harmful to North Carolina's people in the short-term, it's also undermines North Carolina's fragile economic recovery in the long run. If we want a prosperous North Carolina, we have to start by acknowledging this simple reality.

Edwin McLenaghan is a Policy Analyst at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center

Monday, December 20, 2010

Disaster Network Training

The Red Cross course for mental health volunteers, Foundations of Disaster Mental Health, is being offered in 2 locations in the near future:

  • Saturday January 22, 2011 at the Central North Carolina Chapter in Durham, NC. The course is being taught by Jane Finch & Geoff Zeger.
  • Saturday, Feb 5, 2011at Triangle ARC in Raleigh, NC. This course is being taught by Robert L. Conder, Jr., PsyD.

NC DRN Training - Our on-line training continues to be available to all, whether for new volunteers or for experienced volunteers needing a refresher. Go to http://www.ncpsychology.org/general-public/disaster-resources for more information. More live workshops to be taught at different locations around the state in 2011.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Op-Ed Piece posted from Selena Childs, UNC School of Social Work

From Selena Childs, project director for the N.C. Child Welfare Workforce Collaborative Project at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work and former executive director of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force:

When I hear about a child's death, my chest tightens and my stomach clenches. I hold my children close and give thanks for their safety. I tear up thinking about the fear and pain the child might have experienced and think about loved ones left behind, who are hurting beyond my comprehension. When I learn that the Department of Social Services was involved with the family, my compassion extends to the workers and agency leaders who I know are experiencing a heartfelt loss themselves.

As the public tries to make sense of an inconceivable loss, inevitably blame is sought. As a parent I understand that, because when I hear of a child death I am desperate to find a reason that helps me do away with the anxiety I experience as I hope nothing bad will ever happen to my children. And there is no better target for blame when a child dies than the social service agency charged with protecting children, or so the public seems to believe. I understand that reaction, and I might share it if I didn't know what Child Protective Services workers actually do. If I only knew the negative stereotypes of social workers from TV, I would be on the front lines of attack - "Where were you? Why didn't you do more to prevent this tragedy?"

But I know better. About 80 percent of the families that Child Protective Services/DSS workers serve are families who are unable to meet some of their kids' basic needs. In those cases CPS workers assess the family's needs and work with the family to connect them to resources. Most of those families are helped to help themselves and most importantly, helped to take care of their kids on their own. In the other 20 percent, the caretakers are unable to keep their children safe and may be the source of physical/sexual/emotional abuse. In those instances, CPS workers have the charge and the authority to remove children from those unsafe situations and place them in a safe home.

Most of the time the system works. Most of the time kids are protected. Most of the time the good work of CPS goes unnoticed, unheralded, un-reported in the news. But when a child is a victim of a violent crime and CPS has a history with the family, CPS is blamed, almost as if the workers and agency had committed the crime themselves.

On behalf of the families and children who have been well-served by DSS/CPS, I suggest that the public would benefit if the media and DSS partnered to paint a more complete picture. Reporters might attend a Child and Family Team meeting; shadow a DSS director through the day; and talk to the kids and parents who are better off as a result of the service they received.

I understand the temptation to blame DSS when a child dies - the alternative, that we as a society have failed, is almost too big to comprehend. If there's a worker or agency to blame, then you and I can worry less that it could be us who someday experiences such a devastating loss. But I know better. And you, the public, should have accurate information about the good work of our departments of social services so you know better, too.

For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer's, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2010/12/02/1879758/blaming-dss-for-childs-death-is.html#ixzz17LE2sTKt

Dorothea Dix property debate resurfaces

Raleigh, N.C. — As the state moved forward with plans on Friday to begin closing North Carolina’s oldest state-run mental institution, discussion is resurfacing on what to do with the 306 acres that make up the Dorothea Dix Hospital Campus.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced in September that it was closing Dorothea Dix Hospital to help cut approximately $17 million of $28 million in operating costs that weren’t allocated in the 2010-11 state budget. The hospital on Friday stopped admitting most adult patients, with the exception of those who committed a crime and are ordered there by a judge.Eventually all patients will be treated at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro and Central Regional Hospital in Butner.

According to a DHHS timeline, the hospital could close its doors as early as next fall.When that happens, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker wants to turn the 306-acre Dix property, which overlooks downtown, into an urban park similar to New York’s Central Park.He said he expects to discuss his vision with the governor's office in the next few weeks.

DHHS wants to keep the property, which is the headquarters for the department.More than 1,400 employees work on the Dix campus, and approximately 20 of the buildings on the property are on the National Historic Registry, including the hospital.“This is the heartbeat of the operation,” DHHS spokeswoman Renee McCoy said. Meeker said that buildings on the property that require renovation and aren’t part of the historic registry should come down, at some point.The state should build a new headquarters for DHHS in downtown, he said, where several other state agencies are housed.

Another 1,700 other DHHS employees work in leased space around downtown at a cost of $7 million to $8 million each year.“That's where the employees would go,” he said. “Having your employees spread out over different buildings is not efficient and, over time, the renovation costs will be substantial.”McCoy said DHHS has no plans to relocate.“Fourteen hundred employees would be a lot of people to find additional space for,” she said. “This is where they’ve been housed. This is where work is being done.”

Talk about what to do with the Dix property has been going on for years.In 2007, the city offered to buy the campus and use the historical buildings for purposes compatible for a destination park.It would be up to the General Assembly, however, to approve a land deal were the state willing to sell the property.

* Reporter: Bruce Mildwurf, WRAL News December 3rd

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fitzsimon File

It’s the old right-wing ideology, not the new reality
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
By Chris Fitzsimon

The latest absurd take on the Republicans vow to address the state's anticipated $3.5 billion budget shortfall only by slashing budgets of schools and human services is that it is the new reality.

Republican Representative-elect Bill Brawley from Mecklenburg County told the Charlotte Observer this week that the state "only has so much money" and that If that means "some things that had been funded aren't, it's unfortunate. But it's not something over which we have control."

Those things that are likely not to be funded adequately if Brawley and his colleagues have their way include the public schools, the mental health system, and programs to give at-risk kids the help they need to have a fighting chance when they get to school. That would be a lot worse than unfortunate.

And funding for all of those things is well under the control of Brawley and his fellow Republicans. The new reality they want us to accept is not reality at all, it is anti-government ideology from the right-wing think tanks whose misinformation framed the talking points for Republicans candidates during the campaign and who are now trying to convince us that the problem is simply that we have more government than we can afford.

But these people who don't believe in government in the first place. They would rather privatize public education with vouchers and tax credits than support well-funded effective public schools. They'd rather turn over health and safety regulations to their holy free market and hope that no business cuts any corners to increase profits and puts us all at risk.

It's not about having more government than we can afford. It is about having more government than the rigid right-wing ideology would allow, and that's not much government at all.

It's really not that complicated. Every state budget is a series of choices and though a $4 billion shortfall is daunting problem, it is not impossible to solve it with a combination of budget cuts and new revenue to minimize the damage the public institutions that the vast majority of North Carolinians support.

The ideal approach would include an overhaul of the state's outdated revenue system and a broadening of sales tax base to include services. That would bring in additional revenue even if the overall rate was reduced slightly. Lawmakers could also end some of the corporate tax breaks that cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

If the Republican majorities are unwilling to take on the entrenched special interests that oppose such a plan, they could at least extend the 2009 tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this fiscal year.

That would reduce the budget shortfall by close to $1.5 billion. They could raise cigarette and alcohol taxes to raise another $250 million, tax increases which the polls show the majority of people in North Carolina support raising to save public services. That would still leave $1.5 billion to cut, not any easy task, but at least there'd be a decent chance of merely damaging vital institutions, not destroying them.

It's far from a perfect approach. The 2009 revenue package relied on an increase in the regressive sales tax to raise most of its revenue and the excise taxes are also disproportionately paid by the poor.

But people are already paying the additional taxes, and though it is a burden on low-income families that ought to be reduced in the future, the state's economic climate is hardly suffering because of the 2009 tax package.

In fact, just the opposite, as economist and Locke Foundation adjunct scholar Mike Walden points out when he describes North Carolina as one of the states that is best positioned for the economic recovery.

Confronting the special interests and reforming the revenue system is a far better plan. The worst idea is to raise no new revenue at all and instead balance the budget on the backs of teachers and people with a mental illness or a disability.

That would be more than an ill-defined new reality. That would be the intentional creation of suffering to serve a hard-line right wing ideology and that's not what the people of North Carolina want or deserve.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NC Policy Watch

A hint of things to come

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

By Chris Fitzsimon

If you are wondering how the new Republican majorities in the General Assembly will handle the state's $3.5 billion shortfall next year, a few statements in the last few days provide some clues.

The leading candidates for House Speaker, Representative Paul Stam and Representative Thom Tillis, appeared this weekend on the WRAL-TV public affairs show On the Record along with NC GOP Chair Tom Fetzer.

The program started with a news story about the potential cuts to services to people with disabilities and included a comment from an official with the ARC of North Carolina, a group that provides services to the disabled and advocates on their behalf. She said that deep cuts on top of the ones made in the last two years would be devastating and pointed out that 7,000 people are currently on the waiting list for help.

A few minutes after the story, host David Crabtree asked Fetzer if it would be a public relations problem for the Republican Party if its legislative leaders followed through on their pledge not to raise any new revenue to address the shortfall and made it up by deeply slashing the state budget and cutting services like the ones featured in the story.

Public relations may have been an odd thing to ask about, but Fetzer's response was far more troubling. He told Crabtree that "we need people to get in charge and do what's best for the whole state of North Carolina and if some special interests get trimmed along the way, then so be it."

The message was clear. People with disabilities are a special interest. Anybody who opposes the Republicans' efforts to cut 20 percent or more from education and human services must be a special interest too, people with a mental illness, teachers, at-risk kids.

It's not much different than what the head of the Locke Foundation calls advocates for people who need services or teachers who speak out for smaller classes—he lumps then all together in what he calls the "spending lobby" in Raleigh, people he thinks should be ignored or run over when it comes time to write the budget.

Tillis said shortly after the election last week that the cuts the Republicans plan to make could lead to "legitimate, sad stories about people who may end up suffering," presumably Fetzer's "special interests."

Stam told Crabtree that the university system is likely to suffer severe cuts next year and that may be an understatement. Another staff member of the Locke Foundation, whose right-wing budget proposals are a blueprint for Republicans, told a reporter that some campuses of the UNC system may have to be consolidated or closed.

That was the worst case scenario outlined by outgoing UNC President Erskine Bowles last week at his last meeting with the Board of Governors.

But it's not a worst case scenario at all to the folks at the Locke Foundation and the Republican leaders with their dogmatic refusal to consider raising new revenue. It's an opportunity, a chance to dismantle the government they loathe, regardless of the damage and pain it creates. Calling the most vulnerable people in the state a special interest hardly makes it okay to hurt them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Disaster Reponse Training

North Carolina’s Disaster Response Network (DRN) is pleased to offer training to licensed mental health professionals who are interested in becoming involved in disaster mental health response. Developed by the DRN along with the NC Center for Public Health, this course is designed to educate licensed mh professionals about the unique aspects of disaster work and is a pre-requisite for membership in the DRN. The training is divided into two parts: Part I is online; registration is free & open to everyone, not just licensed mh professionals. It consists of eight thirty minute modules, covering topics ranging from phases of disaster & mh intervention to ethical issues & volunteer activation. To access Part I please go to http://cphp.sph.unc.edu/training/nc_drn/.

After completing Part I you may register for Part II, a 2 hour in-person workshop focusing on disaster simulations and hands-on activities. The next live workshop is on Friday, November 5th in Fayetteville, at the Cumberland County MH Center. The cost of the live workshop is $60 & a registration form is attached. Completion of Parts I & II is worth 6 HOURS of Continuing Education Credit!!

To register or find out more about the training as well as the DRN please go to http://cphp.sph.unc.edu/training/nc_drn/.

If you have any questions please contact Elizabeth Cloud of the NC Psychological Association at ncpaelizabeth@mindspring.com.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ARC Survey


The Arc seeks individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families or caregivers to participate in a national disability needs survey. The Arc FINDS (Family and Individual Needs for Disability Supports) is a free, online survey designed to tap into the knowledge and perspectives of individuals and families within the I/DD community, including self-advocates on different issues across the life span. So far, thousands of people have taken the survey; more participants are being sought as every opinion will count. Results will provide greater understanding about what services are being received, where gaps exist, and what new supports may be needed from the individual and family perspective. To access the online survey, go to: http://www.thearc.org and link to the survey from the home page – and pass the word along to others. Take one and pass along!


Participate in One of the Listening Sessions Being Held Across the State -- We Want to Hear from You!

Over the next three months, Disability Rights North Carolina will host public Listening Sessions across the State. At these sessions, Executive Director Vicki Smith will lead conversations that will help define our organization's issue targets for the next three years.

This is a great opportunity for you to share your thoughts with Disability Rights NC. Don't miss these Listening Sessions if . . .

  • You are curious about how Disability Rights NC selects the cases it accepts;
  • You want to have input into the types of cases Disability Rights NC accepts;
  • You want to share critical information with Disability Rights NC about the violation of the rights of people with disabilities in our State.

All Listening Sessions are open to the public. Pass this along to other people you know who want to ensure that all people with disabilities in North Carolina are treated equally and fairly, and have full access to the community.

If you plan to attend and need an ASL interpreter, please contact Janice Willmott at janice.willmott@disabilityrightsnc.org to request assistance.

Mon., August 23


11:00 am - 1:00 pm

East Resource Center

1608 E. 5th Street


5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Bordeaux Branch Library

3711 Village Drive

Wed., August 25


1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Sheppard Memorial Library

Room A, 530 Evans Street


5:30 pm - 7:30 pm

Wilson Public Library

249 Nash Street

Mon., Sept. 20


1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Watauga County Public Library

140 Queen Street

Tues., Sept. 28


5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

East Regional Library

211 Lick Creek Lane

Wed., Sept. 29


2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Halifax Community College

Multi-Purpose Room

200 College Drive

Tues.,October 5


11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Main Library

310 N. Charlotte Street


4:00 pm - 6:00 pmRowan Public Library

Hurley Room

201 W. Fisher Street

Thur., October 14


2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Public Works Building

Room A11

161 S. Charlotte Street

Fri., October 15


(Time and Location

to be determined)

Thur., October 21


12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Miller Park Community Center

400 Leisure Lane


4:30 pm - 6:30 pm


504 S. Main Street