Whither the cuts

Really nice article in the N&O yesterday about just how hard it will be to balance the state budget on the back of state workers, i.e., cutting jobs.  In my media and politics class this semester, a consistent theme is that news articles often fail to provide the larger context and to do the research to help make sense of that context.  This article gets it right, by showing just what cutting jobs would entail and from where these jobs would have to be cut.  In the abstract, voters are plenty happy to cut “government workers.”  When you are talking about a state budget, though, most of those “government workers” are teachers, prison guards, and law enforcement.  I’d like to see how many people really want cuts there.  Here’s the nice chart on the matter from the article:

The legislature appropriates money through the general fund to pay for tens of thousands of positions. Special funds and state receipts pay for thousands of other state jobs. For example, the state’s highway fund pays for the equivalent of roughly 13,800 full-time positions in the Department of Transportation.

In all, the state’s coffers fund what is equal to nearly 317,000 full-time positions. Here’s a breakdown of General Fund full-time equivalents:

Agency FTEs budgeted
Public schools 153,188
UNC system 35,067
Justice and public safety 31,091
Community colleges 18,722
Health and Human Services 8,468
Natural and economic resources 3,761
General government 4,235
Education – state administration 653
Total-General Fund 255,185

Another really good point the article makes is that when you fire somebody, you lose the cost of their salary, but, at least in the short term, pick up a lot of related costs.  All of a sudden, there’s unemployment insurance to be paid and a good chance that the fired employee will need other forms of social welfare assistance.  In the first year, you only save an average of $18,000 on a $50,000 employee.  Not the best trade-off.   My guess is that if you gave the voters of NC a straight-up choice of a higher sales tax versus firing teachers, they’d take the sales tax.  If you gave them the choice of a higher tax rate for the richest residents over firing teachers, you’d get overwhelming support.  (Not that I advocate government my public opinion, as I’ve clearly indicated earlier).  Still, when they fire a bunch of teachers, the Republicans in charge will most definitely not be carrying out the will of the people (of course, that’s in part because it is impossible to do so– the people have been fooled into thinking they can have everything they want plus low taxes).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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