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.