It’s time to give Governor Perdue some credit

It’s time to give Governor Perdue some credit

- in Progressive Voices

North Carolina's budget is not a cold balance sheet; the budget is a moral document that conveys our collective values and priorities.

That's an easy concept to grasp when you meet the family of Darrell and Jocelyn Cooley. Darrell works in information technology for the state while Jocelyn works part-time as a registered nurse. Jocelyn spends most of her days caring for the couple's youngest child, Joshua. Joshua was born with a rare genetic disorder that caused cerebral palsy.

Darrell and Jocelyn are insured through the State Health Plan, but the bills for Joshua's care are enormous. His wheelchair costs $6,000. His leg braces cost $948. And the specialized bed that he needs to prevent him from choking at night costs $7,000. The family still can't afford the bed, so Darrell and Jocelyn rise at night with every noise Joshua makes.

It should be a source of pride to every North Carolinian that the Cooley family is not alone in caring for Joshua. He is enrolled in the Community Alternatives Program for Children. The Community Alternatives Program, part of Medicaid, assists parents caring for medically fragile children to prevent institutionalization.

Gov. Bev Perdue is taking a political risk by campaigning for new taxes to protect people like Joshua Cooley from the wreckage of budget battles.

Our state is in a financial bind. We know that legislators will shave funding for vital programs. But they must find new revenue sources to ensure that cuts are measured.

North Carolina's budget is not the same as a family checkbook, although that comparison is often made. It is when citizens can no longer afford milk and butter that we must preserve as much state spending as possible.
It is insensible to stop providing health insurance to children just when parents are struggling to find affordable coverage. And it is inhumane to snip the social safety net just when North Carolinians are in freefall.
People who oppose raising revenues to bolster the budget do not want to kick children off of insurance or cripple classrooms. Instead, they object to paying more in taxes when there is obvious waste in state government. And there is chaff in the budget – that is undeniable. We pay for ineffective drugs, subsidize athletic booster clubs and fund favored projects of the politically connected.

Legislators must prioritize. Each funding decision must be morally defensible.

But even if we stripped the budget down to its most critical core, the yawning gap would remain. We need more money.

There are fair ways to raise funds. We should close corporate loopholes that allow multi-state companies to skip out on paying the same taxes owed by local, corner store competitors. There are also attempts to tax some internet sales. Big corporations are climbing into the ring over these proposals. Amazon is making threats.

When large companies get riled over taxes I'm reminded of a letter written by Winston Churchill about the wealthy fighting his proposals to increase social spending: "I never saw people make such fools of themselves as all these Dukes and Duchesses are doing. One after another they come up threatening to cut down charities and pensions, sack old labourers and retainers, and howling and whining because they are asked to pay their share, as if they were being ruined."

Even if we collect more money it will only fill a small corner of our budget hole, but it's something.
When Jocelyn Cooley spoke to members of the North Carolina Justice Center's Health Access Coalition about potential budget cuts last week she said, "My son Joshua, he's handicapped. He can't speak for himself. And so you're dealing with a population that has no voice."

I, for one, am pleased that Gov. Perdue is traveling the state giving a voice to Joshua. I'm grateful that she is doing what is prudent for the state. And, most importantly, I'm thankful that she is doing what is right.

Adam Linker is a health policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center's Health Access Coalition.