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State Budget Passes – Thoughts and Observations

Earlier this week, after a rather long and certainly difficult time, our state legislators ended their business and adjourned until the state of the short session next year.

Our state legislators and Governor were certainly confronted with preparing a budget in what certainly many are calling the most difficult economic times our state government has ever experienced. With less state revenue and high employment in our state, and our state constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, cuts certainly had to be made in the budget and we certainly anticipated having cuts in budgets for services to those with developmental disabilities.

But what we didn’t anticipate was that service funding for people living with autism and other developmental disabilities would be impacted so severely.

And while everyone agrees that cuts were needed to be made, many of us all believe there continues to be both a need to examine new ways to finance state government and also a need to re-prioritize how state dollars are spent in North Carolina.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean. A few months ago, our state legislature approved providing close to a $1,000,000,000 (Billion!) for Apple Computers to locate a facility in North Carolina. The rationale was that by giving this incentive to Apple over a period of years, jobs would be created and opportunities for economic growth in our state would grow. That is all likely true.   But, at the same time, our state legislature was reducing almost a $1,000,000,000 for the current fiscal year from the budget of Health and Human Services, particularly in freezing new CAP slots, reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates and reducing mental health and developmental disability service funding.

Behind each of those cuts, is a person who needs that support to work, to go to school, and to live. Why didn’t anyone challenge the reasoning that a $1,000,000,000 investment in Apple Computers locating in North Carolina is no different than a $1,000,000,000 investment in helping those living with a mental illness and/or a developmental disability? When we freeze CAP funding, we eliminate a person from getting services so they can go to work at Apple Computer facility. When we reduce funding for case management for people living with autism or another developmental disability, we also eliminate the ability for such a person to compete for that Apple Computer job.

Another example: We provide tax incentives to build sports stadiums that have high price tickets for which most of us can’t afford. The argument is that if a sports stadium is built, it creates economic well being in a community. But this isn’t always true and studies have shown that little economic growth occurs when a stadium is financed by state dollars or incentives. Studies done by the Federal Reserve have actually shown that investments in early childhood education are a better economic societal investment than spending money on sports stadiums. But, can’t an argument be made that when you help a person who lives with autism, you are helping that person obtain greater societal opportunity thus allowing that person to earn and spend money in his or her community thus increasing the economic well being of that community? Is the person who can afford to sit in a sky box at a sports stadium anymore important in terms of economic development that a person who lives with a disability and wants to work?

Another example: Our state funds many programs that we are told provide services for all people, including those living with a developmental disability and/or mental illness. But is that true? Do all state support programs for housing establish housing programs that are addressing the needs of people living with autism? Do all state supported after school and pre-school programs accommodate the needs of those living with autism? Do all state supported programs that provide summer camp opportunities readily accommodate people living with autism? I don’ think so. But, why is it then that these programs tend to get less in state funding cuts than the programs that have had to be established because of the lack of some state supported agencies and programs not accommodating effectively those living with a developmental disability or mental illness.

And when it comes to new taxes, I applaud the state legislature to start examining how to address state government financing differently than we historically have done so. How do you determine when it is better to add a fee to visit one of North Carolina’s magnificent parks vs. increasing sales tax? When you decide to include various service industry entities vs. increasing the income tax rates? These are questions and issues that we as advocates for those living with autism or other developmental disabilities need to be active in the debates that will hopefully start occurring within our state.

All any advocate for those living with autism or another developmental disability is asking for is fairness and an equal playing field for people to seek the many opportunities of life. That day will come but until it does, we have to continue to advocate in a proper and just manner for those who deserve nothing less than to be treated fair and just.

One Response

  1. I was also very disappointed at the budget cuts. So typical of the govt to use their fear tactics by USING us to scare people into accepting a tax increase begrudgingly. Now I have to pay more taxes AND my son still does not get services! I’m typically not a very “entitled” kind of person but if I pay taxes for these programs, then when I need them for my child, they better be there.

    I’m glad education didn’t take such a hard hit but the school districts, in my experience, give families of children with autism even more problems and battles to fight. I’m saying not only do they not help, they cause more problems which is why so many autism families in NC end up homeschooling. I should add, it is still not clear to me how these massive cuts to DD will impact real people- I’ve heard some interpretations but would appreciate it if the ASNC could email us a “translation” of sorts.

    The fact that CAP has been frozen for long and will continue to not provide new slots seriously makes me ill. People will die preventable death because of this. I hate to be alarmist but I know this is true. People need to stop viewing autism as “a blessing” (scott?) because this could not be further from the truth in most cases. My son is a blessing. The autism is not a blessing- it is a whole body illness. Autism stole his ability to speak and communicate his basic needs. Most of these kids in my son’s school scream and rock for HOURS. They show no concern or even simple recognition of others. Eight year olds banging their head on the floor and wiping feces on the wall, not a blessing. Families not being able to leave their house for weeks because their child’s behavior is so atrocious and no one will babysit (and no CAP worker!) Not a blessing. Being told by professionals that your child has a disease for which there is no treatment and will last for the rest of his life? Not a blessing. Our pediatrician recommending that we put my 2 year old on heavy duty anti-psychotics? Not a blessing. THIS is the message that the ASNC should be putting out there. It’s not fear-mongering, it is REALITY for many many families in NC.

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