Halt Cuts in Budget, Education Chiefs Ask

The Senate gave educators and economic development experts an

opportunity Monday to plead for no more budget cuts in the next

two years, but they had to share the floor with about 60 people

from an anti-tax group who showed up to oppose any tax hikes.

Senate budget writers allowed several members from North

Carolina Citizens for a Sound Economy to make their case that the

state should rein in spending, instead of adopting a lottery or

raising taxes.

About 25 school superintendents joined an equal number of

community college presidents and several UNC chancellors to

impress upon legislators that further budget cuts would reverse

the gains they have made in student performance and in training

workers in a tough economy. All three systems are seeing rising

numbers of students, but the money they get for enrollment growth

is ending up supplanting budget cuts.

“We cannot sustain cuts at this magnitude and provide for the

increased numbers of students who are coming here,” said UNC

President Molly Broad.

But Dennis Riddell, a member of the anti-tax group, said that

the state has yet to get serious about curbing spending in tough

times. Riddell, 46, a father of eight from Alamance County, said

he has had to cut his expenses to get by, and the state should


“If that’s proper for a family, I don’t think it’s foolish for

the state,” Riddell said.

Others contended that raising taxes would hurt an economic

recovery. They said a lottery for education, as Gov. Mike Easley

has advocated, would send the wrong message to children.

One speaker, Andrea Harris, president of the N.C. Institute of

Minority Economic Development, said the Senate should eliminate

corporate tax breaks.

The hearing came as Senate and House budget writers remain

deadlocked over passing a budget.

The House’s latest $ 14.8 billion plan includes cuts to health

and human services, education and other services that senators

say would cause too much harm. The Senate has produced a $ 15.1

billion plan that doesn’t cut as deeply, but doesn’t cover what

Senate budget analysts project as a $ 628 million shortfall in

revenues for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Those analysts

say the Senate could need to plug a $ 1.5 billion hole in the

budget’s second year.

Senate Democratic leaders have suggested that a lottery or an

increase in the tobacco or alcoholic beverage taxes would help

solve the problem. But House leaders say they can’t raise more

revenues, and they are using $ 510 million in one-time federal

budget relief money to get by.

Only a few House members trickled in to listen in on the

hearing. Two said what they heard wasn’t going to help break the


“It didn’t change my mind,” said House Republican Leader Joe

Kiser, who sits on a committee of House and Senate members

negotiating a compromise budget. “We just don’t have the votes in

the House to do what the Senate wants us to do, and we keep

telling them that.”

About half of the Senate showed up for the hearing. Those who

spoke tended to challenge the viewpoints of the anti-tax


One speaker noted that she received a sound education in the

1960s though she sat in classrooms of 30 or more students. Sen.

Walter Dalton, a Rutherfordton Democrat and Appropriations

co-chairman, responded that education took up 70 percent of the

state budget then, compared with 58 percent today.

Dalton closed the hearing with a history lesson about one of

his district’s favorite sons, the late Gov. O. Max Gardner.

Dalton credited Gardner for helping create the state’s first

sales tax, which Dalton said helped keep the schools open during

the Depression.

“I hope we keep the same kind of priorities he had, because

education and economic development go hand in hand,” Dalton said.

“As I said before, we’re not doing a two-year budget. We’re doing

a 20-year budget.”