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 Falling revenues created by an outdated tax system and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression have created a much-publicized budget shortfall - and some shortsighted parties want to try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