Buncombe leaders detail impact of NC budget cuts on local community services as group advocates tax policy overhaul as long-term funding solution

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Smart Start of Buncombe County Executive Director Ron Bradford said Thursday night that his organization, which serves young children and their families, is working through losing $600,000 in state funds this fiscal year. Photo by Matt Rose.

ASHEVILLE — For Smart Start of Buncombe County Executive Director Ron Bradford, the impact of the North Carolina legislature’s 20 percent funding cuts to the early childhood program have been “an incredible roller-coaster ride.”

For Smart Start of Buncombe County, those $180 million in statewide cuts translated into $600,000 being eliminated from the local nonprofit that supports the early education and health and welfare of children from birth through age 5 and their families, Bradford said.

Bradford and other Buncombe community leaders Thursday evening shared at a program at the YWCA how cuts in the state budget passed in June have impacted their organizations. The event, which included a presentation by the North Carolina Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center about proposed tax code changes, was organized by the Women for Women giving circle of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

About 70 people attended the meeting co-sponsored by the American Association of University Women, Just Economics, the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, Children First/Communities in Schools, the League of Women Voters, and the YWCA of Asheville.

Bradford said the impact of state budget cuts on Smart Start of Buncombe County included reducing the capacity of the former More at Four pre-kindergarten program — which is now known as NC Pre-K — for at-risk 4-year-olds. Smart Start of Buncombe County went from being able to serve 330 children through this program to being able to serve 264 children.

The local Smart Start’s Child Care Subsidy program, which helps families in need by providing vouchers to pay for child care, now has about $136,000 less in funding, resulting in about 30 families not being served compared to the year before, Bradford said.

The organization also has had to scale back its Sustaining Facility Quality initiative which provides financial support to highly-rated child care programs, Bradford said. Funding for that Smart Start program in Buncombe County was reduced from $700,000 to $540,000 for this current fiscal year, he said.

Smart Start of Buncombe County also had to cut $40,000 from the Child Care Health Consultants program, Bradford said, which trains providers and parents and gives on-site health care consultations at child care sites to address children’s special health, developmental, contagious disease and chronic medical needs.

Scaling back and eliminating programs due to funding cuts “was the tidal wave that went over Smart Start,” Bradford said.

Educator: More needs, fewer resources

Educator Wendy Hannah told the crowd that the statewide educational budget cuts have impacted her professionally and are impacting Buncombe County Schools students.

Buncombe County Schools Assistant Principal Wendy Hannah on Thursday said budget cuts are making meeting students' needs challenging. Photo by Matt Rose.

In June, Hannah said she learned the assistant principal position she held with Valley Springs Middle school would “be evolving into a traveling position.”

Hannah now is an assistant principal with Buncombe County Schools, serving as the assistant principal at both Valley Springs Middle and North Buncombe Elementary and traveling between the two schools which she said each have about 500 students.

“Although the situation is not ideal, I still feel very fortunate to have a position,” Hannah said, adding that Buncombe County Schools lost more than 200 positions from the state budget cuts.

The cuts are making it challenging for her and her colleagues to adequately address the educational and other needs of a growing student body population, she said.

“In our current situation, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to provide for students so they can be all they can be,” Hannah said. “Students are coming to us with more and more needs and we have fewer resources.”

YWCA rep: ‘Tough road…not done yet’

YWCA of Asheville Preventive Health Director Alphie Rodriguez said at the meeting that state budget cuts resulted in the organization losing about $400,000 in public funds this year.

YWCA of Asheville Preventive Health Director Alphie Rodriguez said Thursday the YWCA lost about $400,000 in state funds. Photo by Matt Rose.

The impact of  has been felt throughout the YWCA’s operations, Rodriguez said, and in turn have affected mothers, children and individuals with low incomes and individuals in minority groups.

Because of the budget cuts, the YWCA’s FutureVision after-school and mentoring program for teenagers will no longer exist after June 2012, she said. Through FutureVision — which has been part of a dropout prevention initiative — middle and high school students receive tutoring and other educational training and the opportunity to engage in various cultural, physical, social and intellectual activities.

The YWCA’s Diabetes Wellness and Diabetes Prevention program, Rodriguez said, lost $156,000 in public funds. Thankfully, Rodriguez said, the loss was made up with private funding.

“It’s been a tough road, and we’re not done yet,” she said.

Changes to N.C. tax laws seen as funding solution

At the Thursday program, representatives of the North Carolina Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center discussed proposed tax code changes they say could create more revenue for the state. The North Carolina Justice Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group with the mission is “to end poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household has access to the resources, services and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security.”

North Carolina Justice Center Senior Policy Advocate Louisa Warren. Photo by Matt Rose.

North Carolina Justice Center Senior Policy Advocate Louisa Warren said funding cuts the General Assembly passed this year in its budget were not due to “a runaway spending problem.” The national recession played a large role, she said, as did the fact that legislators looked only looking at spending cuts to address the budget shortfalls. Warren said, for example, the extension of a 1-penny sales tax increase that already was in place could have generated more than $1 billion.

But another root problem, Warren said, is that North Carolina has “a 1930s revenue system for a 21st-century economy.”

Since key tax laws were enacted in the 1920s and 1930s, the North Carolina economy has moved from being more goods-based to being more services-based, and tax codes need to be reformed to reflect that, said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center.

The group also advocates changes so that taxpayers in the lowest income brackets and those in the highest  brackets would pay comparatively more equitable percentages of taxes, Sirota said.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that works on federal, state and local tax policy issues. According to its 2009 report “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States,” the lowest 20 percent income group in North Carolina, which had an annual income range of less than $17,000, spent 9.5 percent of its family income in 2007 on state and local taxes. The top 1 percent of taxpayers in the state who had an annual income of $398,000 or more spent 6.8 percent in 2007 on similar taxes.

The group also advocates for the extension of North Carolina’s Earned Income Tax Credit which is set to expire in 2013, Warren said.

Also, corporate tax laws, including those that offer business incentives but may be inefficient in terms of creating and maintaining jobs, also need to be reformed, Sirota said, as do laws that make North Carolina vulnerable to the abuse of tax-shelters by multi-state corporations.

Editor’s note: Read an executive summary of the North Carolina Justice’s Center’s Budget and Tax Center’s “The Future is Now: A Plan to Modernize North Carolina’s Revenue System” and the nonprofit’s full report.

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About the Author

Kathleen O. Davis

Kathleen O. Davis is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press. Contact her at kathleenodavis@gmail.com.

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