False choices

Skewed values pit children against the disabled.

By Chris Fitzsimon

[05.28.04] —

Cut off services to hundreds of developmentally disabled people across the state, or put off reducing class size in third-grade classrooms?

Stop helping 200 children with disabilities, or refuse to spend more money to help at-risk four-year-olds?

Give underpaid state employees a long overdue pay hike, or refuse to provide lifesavings drugs to people living with HIV/AIDS who make less than $12,000 a year?

Those are just a handful of choices N.C. House leaders are making in private meetings in Raleigh.

Friday, May 28, was supposed to be the day the House leadership unveiled its budget for next year, but outrage from across the state and from some rank-and-file House members delayed the process by at least a week. That ought be good news, but there is still no indication that House budget leaders are willing to reject the false choices they are now considering.

It now seems clear that people will suffer when this budget is passed.

It does not have to be this way.

Lawmakers do not have to decide which critical program to cut, which vulnerable citizens to cut off from services, which children still waiting for services to ignore.

The real choice is to find a source of revenue to meet the fundamental obligations of a decent society.

That has not yet registered in the minds of the people putting the budget together who consistently say there is not enough money to address all the needs.

Isn’t it their job to find the money to address those needs?

Gov. Mike Easley, who also ducked that question in the budget he presented to state lawmakers, is fighting furiously behind the scenes for the class-size reduction and money for at-risk four-year-olds.

After lawmakers decided to put off the budget for another week, Easley said that “budget priorities are very important and they have to reflect North Carolina’s values.”

It is hard to disagree with that.

It’s also hard to see how any of the choices now under consideration live up to it.

North Carolina values ought to lead lawmakers and Easley to help people across the state who are struggling, not to choose between children and the mentally ill, or between the developmentally disabled and people who can’t afford lifesaving medication.

Chris Fitzsimon is director of NC Policy Watch, a program of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal.

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