State budget headed to House after Senate passes it 30-16

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From staff and wire reports
RALEIGH ó The state Senate made quick work Thursday of its two-year proposed budget for North Carolina government, giving final approval to a multibillion-dollar spending plan that doesn’t explain how the state intends to pay for it.
Senators voted 30-16 in favor of the plan, a day after giving their initial OK Wednesday by a similar 32-16 margin. There was no debate Thursday because Democrats cut off discussion before the first vote.
The bill spends $20 billion next year and closes a budget gap with spending cuts, federal stimulus money and $500 million in tax increases yet to be finalized.
The measure next goes to the House, which is sure to give the plan scrutiny on Senate efforts to raise class sizes in public schools and phase out the More at Four preschool program championed by former Gov. Mike Easley.
A compromise budget ultimately will be presented to Gov. Beverly Perdue.
State Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie) said he voted against the bill, largely because it includes no net decrease in spending. He also said it calls for a reduction of only one-quarter of 1 percent of state jobs, a number he said is far too low.
Finally, Brock said he doesn’t understand how legislators can pass a bill that calls for that $500 million in tax increases without telling where the increases will be. “That’s just crazy,” Brock said.
He said he worries that legislators will seek to raise that money from taxes on cigarettes, some saying an additional $1-per-pack tax increase is likely.
“It’s unbelievable,” Brock said of such an increase. “They’re already taxed more than anything else.”
Republicans who opposed the bill complained Wednesday that leaving out details on the taxes was irresponsible and doesn’t explain how the budget would be balanced. The budget includes a line item that sets aside $500 million for future tax adjustments that weren’t detailed in the bill.
But Democrats countered it would be reckless to assemble a tax package before they know more clearly how much more revenues they’ll need or what kind of taxes will be required.
The Senate passed the budget bill a few weeks before key April revenue figures are released. Any proposal likely will contain higher cigarette and alcohol taxes ó though not at levels that Perdue sought in her budget proposal three weeks ago.
The plan would reduce spending for K-12 schools more deeply than Perdue sought in her budget proposal released three years ago, shifting more money over to the community college and University of North Carolina systems.
Perdue and the North Carolina Association of Educators oppose a change that would increase the average size of public school classrooms by two students through the 2010-11 school year, at a savings of $322 million annually.
Perdue’s office said it could jeopardize the jobs of 6,000 teachers during the next two years, although Senate budget-writers argue positions would be eliminated through attrition.
The budget also would essentially phase out the More at Four program, which provides free, high-quality preschool to 32,000 at-risk 4-year-olds, and merge it with an initiative that sets ratings for child care programs.Easley promoted More at Four while he was in office the past eight years.