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HCC implores legislators to restore budget cuts

Haywood Community College leaders told a gathering of elected state leaders this week that students and the economy would suffer if funding cuts to the college continue.

While college leaders were making their points about funding, state legislators participated in their own partisan finger pointing about who was responsible for the state’s budget shortfalls.

HCC President Rose Johnson invited legislators to a brunch at the community college this week to give the college an opportunity to discuss budget priorities important to HCC specifically and the community college system as a whole.

High on the list for college leaders was the loss of state funding. HCC’s state funding cuts will amount to $2.3 million in four years: $297,000 in 2009-‘10, $396,900 in 2010-‘11, and $809,000 in 2011-‘12. The projected reduction for 2012-‘13 is $833,000.

Johnson implored legislators to restore this funding. However, if the budget passes with reduction included, Johnson asked legislators to continue to allow college to decide where the cuts would come from, as they have done in the past.

Democratic and Republican legislators in attendance publicly sparred over the state budget cuts, a harbinger of what will likely be a hot button political issue in the coming campaign season.

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Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, placed blame for the community college cuts squarely on GOP leaders in the General Assembly. He said the decision to eliminate the half-cent sales tax last year cost the state almost $1.4 billion in revenue, more than enough to have fully funded education at past levels.

Sen. Jim Davis, a freshman Republican from Franklin, countered that the previous Democratic leadership had landed the state in a fiscal mess. Spending reductions were the only way to balance the budget, he said, admitting that the cuts were tough measures taken to address a tough situation.

HCC leaders also asked county commissioners to restore the allocation for capital building projects and maintenance to $500,000. Haywood commissioners reduced the college’s building and maintenance fund to $120,000 as part of general belt tightening driven by the recession.

County Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger said commissioners knew they were obligated to protect taxpayers’ investments by maintaining buildings, and he hoped tax revenues would increase this year and more could be provided for HCC. The county is in the midst of budget workshops now, however, and Swanger said it was too early to make any commitment about potential funding increases.

Others attending included Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine; Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill; county commissioner Mike Sorrells; and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, D., and Richard Burr, R.

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