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House Tentatively Passes Budget

Lawmakers in the state Senate have tentatively passed a 20.1 billion dollar spending plan as part of this year’s budget adjustment. The Republican-penned plan spends about 127 million dollars less than the House plan approved last month.

Jessica Jones: Republican Richard Stevens is the co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As he addressed his fellow senators earlier today, Stevens said the good news about these last few days of the fiscal year is that almost every department has stayed within its budget.

Richard Stevens: In the end we had a little over 200 million dollars excess, both the combination of underspending and slight increase in revenue. What did we have to do in the very first week we were here? We had to use every penny of that and then some to balance Medicaid for the current fiscal year.

It’s no surprise, then, that providing health care for low-income and disabled people was on Stevens and other senators' minds.

Stevens: Looking at spending of course, we do have some major issues I’m going to talk to you about numerous of those today, but as you will hear the most significant among those are Medicaid.

The Senate budget sets aside about 330 million dollars for Medicaid. Budget writers are concerned that if President Obama’s health care program comes through, the state will be responsible for more people coming onto Medicaid rolls. What the Senate plan doesn’t do is provide as much money for education as the House plan. House budget writers would reduce by about two-thirds the amount of money districts must return to the state in the coming school year. But the Senate budget would require schools to return most of the money. However, Stevens says the Senate budget funds other educational programs.

Stevens: It fully funds the Excellent Public School Act which the Senate passed recently, 47 million dollars. It sets aside approximately 84 million dollars for salaries for teachers which the local school systems can use for personnel related purposes.

The Senate plan leaves teacher raises up to superintendents, but promises most other state employees raises of 1.2 percent. And it provides money for the Excellent Public Schools Act, a bill sponsored by Senate President Phil Berger. It’s controversial among educators because it would end teacher tenure in schools. The North Carolina Association of Educators has criticized the Senate budget for not providing more money for schools. Federal funds helped hire thousands of teachers this last school year, but NCAE says to expect more layoffs if the Senate has its way. Democratic Senator Charlie Dannelly of Charlotte says that won’t be good for the state’s schools.

Dannelly: On two occasions this year, superintendents came up here and warned this General Assembly about the cuts that were being made to the schools and the fact that schools cannot stand these kinds of cuts. Yet 400 million dollars were cut from this budget, from the schools.

Democrats introduced several amendments, including one that would have given more money for the Teaching Fellows program. Another would have delayed the collection of new tolls on ferry routes. But they were all rejected. And another hot-button issue is neglected in the Senate version- eugenics compensation. While the House budget includes funding for compensation for victims of the state’s sterilization program, the Senate version does not. Democratic Senator Floyd McKissick calls that shameful.

McKissick: I hope that when this goes to a conference committee that those of you that are part of those deliberations will look deep into your hearts your minds and your souls and think about what needs to be done to correct this moral wrong and injustice. There’s an opportunity to do so.

The Senate must formally approve its version of the budget with one more official vote. After that, House and Senate negotiators must work out a compromise between their two versions of the state’s budget adjustment.

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