State Senate budget new target for critics
RALEIGH — Senate Republicans pushed their state spending proposal through a pair of committees Tuesday, but not before giving Democrats and advocacy groups plenty to pick at when it comes to reshaping public school funding and raising fees.
The North Carolina government budget plan cleared the Senate’s appropriations and finance panels with only a little vocal push back following the approval of a handful of amendments. The first floor vote is expected today as the GOP-led General Assembly aims toward completing a budget to present to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory by late next month.
The proposal, totaling nearly $20.6 billion in spending for the fiscal year starting July 1, earmarks several hundred million dollars for projected Medicaid spending growth and tax reductions as part of a yet-released tax code overhaul.
“Medicaid is the major driver of this budget,” said Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth and one of the chamber’s chief budget-writers.
Democrats railed against the elimination of funding for teacher assistants for second- and third-grade classrooms next year — a reduction of $142 million, which is the equivalent of more than 4,500 positions. They accused Republicans of not going far enough in restoring funds for local school districts after years of cutbacks going back to the Great Recession, resulting in cutting thousands more teacher positions. They also complained about eliminating caps on class sizes in the early grades.
“You can take these positions out of our schools but the schools desperately need more help, not less,” said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, told Republicans. “We’re just kind of dismantling the public schools until they’re going to implode.”
GOP senators accused Nesbitt and others of crying wolf, arguing that their forecasts of more than 9,000 school layoffs in 2011 didn’t materialize. “I think I heard this same speech two years ago,” quipped Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.
District data provided to state education officials, however, did show almost 2,500 layoffs that year.
Budget deletes education earmarks for lottery
RALEIGH — The North Carolina budget sought by Senate Republicans would eliminate the law that lays out how the state lottery’s net proceeds should be distributed for education.
The plan deletes what the General Assembly intended for profits when the North Carolina lottery law passed in 2005. Half is supposed to go toward class-size reduction and pre-kindergarten, with 40 percent for school construction and the rest for college scholarships for needy students.
Budget-writer Brunstetter said legislators have altered the distribution annually to meet their needs, so it makes sense to eliminate language no one follows.