Time for a responsible budget

Thousands of families need help.

By Chris Fitzsimon

[06.11.04] — Now it’s up to the Senate.

The House passed its version of the budget, cutting many human service programs like mental health and refusing to adequately fund others that provide lifesavings AIDS drugs, insurance for poor children, and day care subsidies for struggling families.

If you glanced at the newspaper headlines or listened to the leaders of the State House, you would think the House budget was not perfect, but was pretty good overall.

The news stories called it a budget that works and a no-frills plan.

The politicians first pointed out that the budget did not raise taxes, then said the plan was balanced and they spent the taxpayers’ money as wisely as they could. Many House members called the budget responsible.

None of those descriptions fit, especially the responsible label.

A budget that takes care of human service needs only with whatever is left over after other programs are funded is hardly responsible.

Think about how a family or a truly responsible business puts a budget together.  Vital needs come first. Always.

No family decides to spend money on vacations, or a new car, or even minor repairs to the house and allocate whatever is left for food, clothing and doctors’ visits.

But that is what our General Assembly does year after year, with devastating results to people’s lives.

It is what the House plan does this year.

Susan Price certainly understands that. She lives in Johnston County with her husband who retired recently after 23 years in the Air Force.

They have a 22-year-old daughter named Jessica, who was born with a rare chromosome disorder. She has severe mental retardation and needs constant care, including help with her personal hygiene.

Susan says Jessica is very loving and enjoys people and music. She graduated from high school in May and is eligible for help from the community alternatives program, but because of lack of funding, she was put on a waiting list.

That means Susan now has an agonizing choice –quit her job to take care of Jessica full-time and put the family at financial risk, or ship her daughter off to an institution, far away from her loving family.

Susan and her family should not have to make that choice.

The Senate should find the money to eliminate that waiting list and help Susan’s family and the thousands of families like hers who need help.

That would be a responsible budget. It’s long overdue.

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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