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House Lawmakers Tentatively Pass Budget Plan

NC House

Lawmakers in the state House have tentatively passed a 21 billion dollar budget plan. It would give teachers average 5-percent raises and state employees flat $1,000 raises, plus benefits.

Last night, lawmakers amended their budget plan with a provision that would provide grants to the film industry. And they continued debating the wisdom of relying on money from the lottery for funding.

Lawmakers spent seven hours discussing their budget proposal on the House floor yesterday. One of the most controversial parts of the plan would raise the cap on the lottery’s advertising budget to encourage people to buy more tickets. Budget writers say that would help pay for teacher raises. But some Republican appropriations chairs admit they have reservations.   

"When we hear that there’s concern about the lottery, I understand that. I was here when the lottery was passed, I was against it, I voted against it, I’m against gambling, I don’t think the state needs to go down that road," says Bryan Holloway, whose district includes Rockingham and Stokes Counties.

He says despite the dislike some lawmakers have for the lottery, no one wants to stop the money from coming in:

"It’s not gonna happen. Because we need it we need to spend it. If we put the vote up to the people to do away with it I would probably vote to do away with it. But we are dependent on those dollars whether we like it or not."

It’s not clear just how successful the strategy will be in practice. Strict advertising restrictions were written into this budget by Republican Representative Paul Stam, who’s well known for his dislike of the lottery. Democrats, including Representative Paul Luebke of Durham, did their best to remind their Republican colleagues how they felt when the lottery was first passed.

"Many of us thought- and I was one who voted against the lottery -- many of us thought it was really wrong not just for reasons of morality for some, but for the fact that you are disproportionately taking  money from people on the lower end of the economic scale," said Luebke.

Not surprisingly, the lottery provision remained in the Republican-penned budget last night. But advocates for the film industry scored a victory. An amendment that would provide grants for the industry passed with broad support. Democrat Becky Carney is from Charlotte:  

"This is an industry and again it creates jobs. Go talk to welders who have jobs today because of the film industry. Talk to the printing companies who during the recession there’s a guy in Charlotte, talk to him about during the recession how he was able to keep his business afloat from a TV show that was being filmed right in his area."

Industry supporters had previously tried in finance committee to extend tax credits that are set to expire this year. On the Senate side, there’s a bill that would also provide grants for the industry. Another amendment to the House budget plan that passed last night seeks to crack down on puppy mills. Governor Pat McCrory has included such a measure in his budget proposal.

Republican Jason Saine of Lincolnton says this amendment is narrower and only covers large scale commercial breeders.

"North Carolina’s one of the most popular states in the country for puppy mill operators. They know they can move here because we don’t have state laws that regulate them. Virginia and Tennessee do, but North Carolina does not," said Saine.

The House budget plan includes a number of other provisions, including money for two dozen more environmental inspectors who will focus on coal ash issues; directing state education officials to operate two virtual charter schools; and five extra vacation days for state employees.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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