Even bad budgets can have good news

Jul. 22, 2013 @ 05:24 PM

Well, let’s start with the good news.

The N. C. General Assembly is poised to approve a budget this week for the fiscal year that began July 1. That in itself is good news. Reasonable people may disagree – passionately – over what’s in and what’s out in this budget, but in an ideal world, the legislature would resolve those arguments in time to have the state’s budgetary house in order when the year begins.

There’s more good news of a sort in the budget compromise announced late Sunday evening. Some of the most draconian cuts favored by the State Senate have been softened in reaching agreement with the State House, whose budget ax cut less sharply and deeply.

The compromise plan falls short in areas these pages have addressed before; there’s little point in reprising many arguments.

Still, it’s worth noting that it is disappointing that this budget will erode the state’s position in some key areas.  Teacher assistants will be much scarcer in state classrooms next fall. And money that could go to those assistants or otherwise addressing the needs of the hundreds of thousands of children in public schools will be diverted to vouchers to help pay for private education. The legislature’s overall philosophy of eroding public education support will move forward less than many proponents would have liked, but move forward it will, nonetheless.

Once again, state employees will get no raise – although they will get an extra five days of vacation. That is a trade that might not offer much relief to belt-tightening families – although that wage stagnation continues to be the fate of many private-sector employees, too, who understandably are reluctant to pay taxes to raise state workers’ pay.

But let’s give a fervent tip of the hat today to something that is in this budget – long overdue compensation payment to living victims of a state-sponsored eugenics program that, incredibly, lasted well into the 1970s. North Carolina continued to forcibly sterilize people it deemed undesirable or feeble-minded for decades after most states that had practiced it recoiled from the practice’s association with Hitler’s Germany.

For years, state officials have debated compensation for the program but always found a reason to sidestep a decision. This budget calls for a one-time payout, without specifying an amount.

House Speaker Thom Tillis has been a champion of the compensation, pushing it through the House two years ago only to have it die in the Senate.  Eugenics compensation is not an issue likely to appeal to Tillis’ base; we commend him for pursuing it – as politicians can occasionally do – because it’s the right thing.

Any legislative veteran knows the next 72 hours are so can bring any amount of mischief in the legislature’s chaotic sprint to the finish. The budget compromise, endorsed as it is by the governor and the majority leaders in both houses, is likely to emerge pretty much as it has been hammered out.

We’ll be dismayed by many aspects of it, but that shouldn’t preclude celebrating the small recompense for past injustice that the eugenics compensation holds.