North Carolina is known for having an appealing quality of life, with communities across the state offering a great place to raise a family and operate a business. Safe and healthy communities play an important role in contributing to this quality of life in what we North Carolinians call home.
Decisions made by state leaders highlight a lagging commitment to enhancing the quality of life within communities across the Tar Heel state. In the current budget, state leaders disregarded Gov. McCrory’s recommendation to provide funding for drug treatment courts, which is a cost-efficient way to provide drug treatment and support to individuals with substance abuse dependencies. State lawmakers did however create “cost savings” by reclassifying certain low-level offenses and allowing them to be punishable by fines instead of jail time – one particular tradeoff is that such defendants will now have convictions on their records despite not having a right to counsel. This could affect their employment prospects and access to other opportunities.
The Justice Reinvestment Act, which garnered bipartisan support in the General Assembly and signed into law in 2011, aims to reduce the state’s prison population in part by increasing the state’s probation and parole population. Current staffing levels are inadequate for supervising the growing number of ex-offenders returning to communities across the state. Many serious offenders have been found to be released without supervision or a plan for re-integration into their communities. The current budget provides funding for around 75 additional probation officers; however, probation officers will continue to manage a large number of cases, which limit the amount of supervision they can devote to individual ex-offenders.
This is the context that our state leaders chose to pass a tax plan last year that significantly reduces revenue available for investments that promote safe and vibrant communities. The tax plan reduces revenue by more than $525 million over the next two years.
These dollars could have been used to:
- Double Gov. McCrory’s recommended state funding for drug treatment courts for FY15;
- Triple state funding for substance abuse treatment for high-risk offenders for FY15;
- Double funding for additional probation and parole officer positions for FY15; and
- Reverse shifting of funding for various public safety programs to state funding and away from receipt-based funding (e.g. fees) for FY15.
Our state leaders’ level of commitment to promoting safe and healthy communities plays a role in the quality of life that North Carolinians are afforded. Programs that provide effective pathways for ex-offenders to transition back into society, effective support and treatment for individuals battling substance abuse, and ensuring that our court system remains accessible to all North Carolinians all contribute to promoting safe and healthy communities.
The tax plan creates missed opportunities to boost public investments that help enhance the quality of life of our state. And for this reason, we all lose under the tax plan.