First Posted: 6/13/2009
RALEIGH A Republican legislator who represents Surry County in the N.C. General Assembly is attacking Democratic tactics to balance the states ailing budget through such measures as fear and tax increases.
Rep. Sarah Stevens of Mount Airy says she is particularly concerned about recent reports warning of massive layoffs and budget cuts in education, which she indicates are being manipulated to distract the public from more relevant budgetary issues.
A Democrat-backed tax-increase plan was approved this week as a means of offsetting budget cuts proposed earlier. Among them were a three-student increase in class size projected to slash thousands of teacher jobs, $25 million from the early childhood Smart Start program and reductions in local mental-health services.
However, Stevens says the educational reductions, in specific, are unlikely to be implemented.
Massive cuts in education are not needed to maintain spending at levels we saw in 2008-09, Stevens said in a lengthy statement issued Thursday to media outlets across her 90th House District. She emphasized that she was speaking only for myself without having discussed the matter with fellow Republicans.
Every member of the Republican Caucus has pointed to the need for education to be a top priority in funding, according to Stevens, who also believes the actual amount of the budget deficit is being overstated by Democrats.
We have argued against proposals in the budget that shift focus away from critical education funding, particularly funding that affects the classroom teachers, students, and related resources. We will continue to argue the position, and we are hopeful the final budget will demonstrate our commitment to education.
Sales, Income Tax Hikes
Stevens comments came in the wake of a key House of Representatives committee approving $783.6 million in tax increases. That move by the House Finance Committee to raise sales, income and other taxes was considered a major step toward remedying a huge budget shortfall facing North Carolina due to the recession.
However, the local lawmaker now in her first term believes the budget can be balanced without both cutting programs such as education, or tax increases. Stevens charges that Democratic leaders in Raleigh are using fears about cuts to push through the hikes.
There is a way to avoid the proposed cuts that have caused fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of many of our citizens, Stevens statement reads.
Spending that has been funded for decades must not be treated like a sacred cow while spending for education is put on the chopping block, she added. If we use this approach, I am convinced funding for education will come out as a top priority. It is hard work and it will take more time, but it is an investment in our future I am willing to make.
House Democrats have declined a recommendation by her to build the budget from the ground up in a zero-based manner in open session, according to Stevens. She instead accuses Democratic leaders of wanting to call all the shots behind closed doors and not pursue meaningful budget reductions.
Many of the cuts they proposed were not serious proposals, but were intended only to stir up pressure on the Legislature to do what the Democrats wanted all along to increase taxes, Stevens added.
According to media reports from the General Assembly, House Democrats said the tax hikes which Republicans maintain would hurt working families and discourage new businesses from moving to the state are an attempt to spread the burden equally.
I am not here to simply rubber-stamp what those currently in power come up with in a closed process and then hand to the rest of us, she said. My position is that no tax-increase discussion should take place until we see what the budget constructed from ground up, funding only the critical priorities, would require in availability.
The Mount Airy legislator believes the $19 billion already available this year would be sufficient to run an effective and efficient state government and a first-class education system with no need to burden struggling taxpayers with yet higher taxes over 10 percent of whom are unemployed.
Stevens contends that the increases would further harm the economy. The taxes proposed this week will be levied on all citizens, and I firmly believe it will have the negative effect of delaying the recovery and extending the time the cuts will need to remain in effect, her statement reads.
The House of Representatives must settle on a budget package in time to reach a final agreement with the state Senate and Gov. Bev Perdue by a July 1 deadline.