Except for the people who benefit from others’ misery — Wall Street short-sellers, pyramid schemers and prosperity gospel profiteers — the Great Recession was difficult, painful, even life-altering.
But not for Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican from Duplin County. The chairman of the Joint Oversight Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Dixon proclaimed yesterday afternoon that the “Great Recession was a wonderful blessing.” His point was that a sudden financial belt-tightening in 2008-09 benefitted state government, turning it into a lean, mean machine, albeit one that left several departments running on fumes.The Great Recession was a wonderful blessing Click To Tweet
“Our bad decisions come when the money is flowing,” said Dixon, who, over the past 20 years, has received $21,000 in federal farm subsidies to help cushion him against life’s ups and downs.
As a hypothetical, let’s say that Dixon’s pronouncement is true. The logic follows that, flush with a $550 billion surplus this year, the legislature made a very poor decision in cutting the budget of NC Department of Environmental Quality by $1.8 million through 2019.
The recent budget bill directed DEQ to achieve this by Reorganization through Reduction program. Stripped of its Orwellian overtones, RTR means doing more with less, begging employees to take early retirement, shifting workloads so one person does the work of two, and probably shaking the printer cartridges to milk every single precious drop of cyan.
These cuts have occurred while the state budget overall has increased and the environmental crises facing North Carolina — GenX, coal ash, emerging contaminants — have become more complex. Forgive North Carolinians if they forget to count their blessings.
Assistant Secretary of the Environment Sheila Holman told the oversight committee that to reach the required RTR benchmark, DEQ will pay nearly $468,000 in severance and $58,000 in health insurance to 12 employees who took the buyout and whose positions are state-funded. This equals an average of $39,000 each in severance, which is based on length of service, plus $4,833 apiece for health insurance.
Even with the payouts, the RTR is projected to save $446,400 in appropriated funds.
Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from Nash County, asked for an “upfront and transparent report of the impacts.”
Such details weren’t available at the meeting, but Holman told the committee that positions within administration, coastal management, customer service, waste management, and energy, mining and land resources were eliminated.
The Division of Water Resources remained unscathed because the budget directive came down in June as the GenX crisis was escalating. The resources required to grapple with the contaminated drinking water ” highlighted the shortages” in that division, Holman said.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, noted that 31 positions throughout the agency have been redirected to deal with GenX and emerging contaminants. Those employees, in water resources, waste management and air quality now spend 70 percent of their time working on that issue and 30 percent on their usual duties, Holman said.
“How are we covering for current obligations?” Harrison asked.