The latest General Assembly study commission to take up the sad story of North Carolina’s mid-20th Century “eugenics” program adopted a set of formal recommendations yesterday. The group voted to endorse a plan that would compensate surviving victims of forced and unwitting sterilization in the amount of $20,000 each. Good for them.
Now the issue will shift to the full General Assembly where the recommendation will apparently be forced to compete with other appropriations requests during a period of budget shortfalls. This hard reality led at least one member of the committee, Rep. Ronnie Sutton, to express some doubts as to whether all of the necessary funding could be freed up in 2009.
With all respect to Rep. Sutton, that’s simply not acceptable. The compensation is already decades overdue. It is a scandal that it has taken this long. Some things simply can’t and shouldn’t have to wait. Such excuses as Sutton is forecasting didn’t stop the state from compensating “victims” of various improper tax collections a few years’ back that were later the subject of big lawsuits by well-compensated law firms.
As Chris Fitzsimon pointed out a couple of weeks ago:
Lawmakers are likely to use this year’s budget crisis as excuse not to help this time. But the budget is simply a list of priorities. The General Assembly could find the money if legislative leaders decided it was important enough….Since 2005, the General Assembly has spent new money on welcome centers, shipwrecks, the ballet, the opera, a new shed at the state zoo—and not a penny for the victims. Taxes have been cut on the wealthiest people in the state. Corporations in specific industries have received tax breaks. In 2005, the final budget left $112 million unspent, lying on the table, instead of compensating the survivors. In 2007, $270 million was left unappropriated while the victims were ignored. And now we have a budget crisis and they are likely to be ignored again. There is no reasonable explanation for that. There is nothing wrong with what the General Assembly voted to fund, but the people who have suffered at the state’s hands should have come first.”