UNCG faculty’s gesture sends a lesson to legislators (well, it should)

The faculty at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro have provided state legislators and others a lesson in responsibility and charity in the face of dire fiscal times.

The budget recently approved by the N.C. legislature provided no pay raises to state employees. That means at UNCG that none of the approximately 1,000 staff members will receive increases this year. Faculty at UNCG, however, have received raises owing to this year’s tuition increase.

Now the 700 or so faculty at UNCG are raising money among themselves to give to the university staff. And as word of the faculty’s generosity got out, alumni and citizens have joined in.

The idea got its start in the spring in the faculty senate, where UNCG faculty first heard that they would be getting raises but not the staff. Chairman Ben Ramsey, associate professor of religious studies, started the discussion and got other faculty involved through a letter writing campaign.

Ramsey has said the campaign’s goal is to raise $250,000 for the staff in time for Christmas.

UNCG’s faculty’s concern for struggling workers in their midst would have been a welcome (not to mention refreshing, revolutionary, amazing) approach by the N.C. legislature. It was — inevitably — not to be, however. Not only did the legislators slate no salary increases for state workers, but also the revised budget they approved appears certain to harm workers, especially poor workers, across the state.

According to an analysis by John Locke Foundation President John Hood, the new budget directly raises the state tax burden by approximately $157 million. That increase owes primarily to changes in business taxes and to the cancellation of scheduled tax cuts — cuts that were intended to help families weather last year’s $700 million increase in sales and income taxes.

Worse, the revised budget would probably provoke tens of millions of dollars in property-tax increases, Hood said, thanks to the state’s confiscation of $333.4 million in tax reimbursements to local governments. That’s on top of the $75 million increase in property-tax increases by city and county governments in 2002-03, because of withheld tax sharings and reimbursement dollars, that was previously estimated by the Locke Foundation.

“These tax increases couldn’t have come at a worse time for our state’s businesses and families, many of whom are struggling with layoffs, declining wealth, and at best an uncertain future,” Hood said. “Our leaders should be debating which of North Carolina’s relatively high taxes to cut to get our economy moving again, not which ones to raise to preserve government programs.”

Incidentally, over the last few years there have been a few similar instances of N.C. faculty using their slated pay increases to help out others in the university community.

Last year, for instance, 66 faculty members and administrators at N.C. Central University chose to forgo a slated raise in order to help the university offset budget cuts. Their intent was especially to help prevent positions from being cut. The combined amount forgone ended up being about $41,000.

Faculty at N.C. State in 1996-’97 volunteered to forgo $4.2 million in new tuition money, which was slated to go toward increasing their own salaries, and directed the money instead to improving the library. Their contribution was a key factor in a decade-long effort of improving the library at N.C. State.

UNC professors have shown a willingness to act apparently counter to their own interests when times of dire need merit it. Would that our legislatures had the same capacity.