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Gov. Easley works on final state budget

RALEIGH ó Gov. Mike Easley today released his recommended budget adjustments for the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
The budget provides $12.5 billion for education, improves the state’s ability to compete for jobs in the global economy, increases funding for mental health services, expands oversight of prison parolees, and helps communities better plan to deal with droughts.
The budget also better prepares the state to deal with the uncertain economy by expanding the Rainy Day Fund to $848 million. Unlike most states that are facing shortfalls, North Carolina will end the current fiscal year with a $152 million surplus. The budget also includes $396 million in general fund budget cuts, nearly 2 percent of the total operating budget.
“As I release the 2008-09 budget proposal, the last one of my administration, I remain just as restless about improving the lives of every North Carolinian,” Easley said. “While we have made great progress in this state, I am still not satisfied. We must build on our strengths to face the challenges of the global economy and the best way we can do this is to expand education at all levels.”
The budget recommends an average 7 percent pay increase for public school teachers, fulfilling the commitment the governor and the legislature made to meet the national average for teacher pay. Currently, the difference between the U.S. and N.C. average for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 15 years experience is 6.9 percent.
Enrollment increases for public schools, community colleges and universities are fully funded and additional money has been recommended to implement the recommendations in the university system’s Campus Safety Task Force Report, increase teacher training and recruit and retain the best teachers.
Easley said that to meet the state’s commitments, cutting the budget will not be enough. He is recommending a 20-cents-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax. The increase, which would total 55 cents per pack, would keep North Carolina’s cigarette tax among the lowest in the nation, about 40th. “It takes real revenue to make real progress in education,” Easley said.
The budget recommends state employees receive the equivalent of a 4 percent pay increase through a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment and a $1,000 one-time bonus. State employees will also receive 5 days of paid bonus leave. The budget also includes a cost of living adjustment for state and judicial system retirees.
More than $76 million has been designated to implement changes in the state mental health system and improve services. The additional costs will be offset by an increase in the taxes on beer, fortified wine and spirits.
More than $65 million is set aside for repairs to university and state buildings, along with another $97 million for pay-as-you-go finance of new construction projects and borrowing for another 553 million in projects.
Specific recommendations in Easley’s budget include:
Public schools
– $492 million overall budget increase.
– $302.7 million to bring teacher pay to the national average
– $90 million to fully funding the ABC bonuses for school teachers.
– $39.8 million to increase by 6,345 the number of More At Four early childhood education program slots to bring enrollment to 35,000.
– $12 million for increases in at-risk enrollment
– $6.6 million to expand the Learn and Earn early college high school program to continue operation of 55 schools and expand to an additional 16 schools in 2009-10.
– $6 million to expand broadband high-speed connectivity for public schools.
– $2 million to assist those public schools with the greatest needs.
Community colleges
– $58.3 million overall budget increase
– $23.8 million for increased enrollment
– $4.8 million for nurse accreditation programs and to add 55 allied health faculty positions to cut program waiting lists.
– $5 million to address equipment needs, including health programs.
– $2.5 million to expand the N.C. Community College System Data Warehouse.
– $1 million to expand the Minority Male Mentoring initiative.
University of North Carolina
– $107.5 million overall budget increase.
– $34.6 million for increased enrollment
– $11 million to implement the recommendations of the UNC Campus Safety Task Force recommendations.
– $2.5 million to implement American Bar Association recommendations to accredit N.C. Central University Law School.
– $2 million to support a new bioengineering facility and other areas at N.C. State University’s College of Engineering.
– Expand EARN grants to accredited private N.C. colleges and universities (can be done within existing budget).
Health and human services
– $217 million overall budget increase.
– $20.9 million for community hospitals support short-term stabilization in psychiatric inpatient services.
– $6.8 million to support 30 mobile mental health crisis teams.
– $5.4 million to improve clinical staff ratios by adding 107 positions to provide closer patient supervision.
– $5.5 million to address shortfalls in shift premiums and worker compensation payments.
– $5.2 million to support 36 beds at Dorthea Dix Hospital
– $4.3 million for crisis intervention services for people who have development disabilities by establishing nine regional START teams.
– $4.2 million for walk-in crisis and psychiatric after care.
– $10 million to expand Health Choice to provide health care for an additional 10,680 children from low income families.
– $9 million to remove 1,110 children from subsidized child care waiting lists and keep 931 children from being dropped.
– $8.3 million to increase foster care and adoption assistance payments.
Justide and public safety
– $49 million overall budget increase.
– $22.6 million to restore funding for community programs that reach out to delinquent and at-risk youth.
– $9.1 million to restore funding for community-based programs that aim at reducing recidivism and the costs of incarceration for the state and counties
– $4 million to improve case management and supervision of adult offenders on probation, parole and post-release.
– $1.9 million to ensure female parolees and probationers have access to residential substance abuse treatment services.
– $600,000 so uninsured rape victims will no longer have to pay a portion of the cost for forensic exams.
Natural and economic resources
– $10 million for the One North Carolina Fund to recruit new and expanding businesses.
– $5 million for the One North Carolina Small Business Innovation Research Program to assist in capturing federal innovation research grants.
– $5 million for the Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.
– $4 million for the N.C. Biotechnology Center.
– $1 million to the N.C. Green Business Fund for grants to small businesses to encourage growth of the green economy in the state.
– $1 million to assist those facing foreclosure on their homes.
– $870,000 to establish a Drought Response Unit to aid communities in preparing to withstand periodic droughts.
– $720,000 to hire ten safety and health compliance officers in the Occupational Safety and Health Division, positions that because of federal funding cuts have been vacant.
– $400,000 to clean up inactive hazardous waste sites.
– $141,330 for two food safety and security inspectors for the meat and poultry industry.
Transportation
– $28.8 million increase for highway maintenance activities.
– $25 million reduction in the Highway Trust Fund transfer to the General Fund as the first step in phasing out the $172.6 million annual transfer. These funds may be used for gap funding for N.C. Turnpike Authority projects authorized by the legislature or urban loop project in the Transportation Improvement Program.
Supporting the military
– $2.2 million to improve health and mental health services to National Guard combat veterans and their families.
– $1 million to support social service and morale programs on North Carolina’s military installations.
– $1 million for college scholarships for children of National Guard members killed or disabled while on active service duty.
– $200,000 for Operation Kids On Guard to assist children of deployed members of the N.C. National Guard.
Capital improvements ń financed through appropriations and certificates of participation
– $280.5 million for five University of North Carolina projects that received planning funds previously including $97 million for the new library on the N.C. State Centennial Campus; $62 million for the new School of Dentistry at East Carolina University; $69 million for a new School of Dentistry at UNC-Chapel Hill; $42.6 million for a new classroom building at UNC-Greensboro and $9.8 million for the completion of a student activity center at Winston-Salem State University.
– $14.5 million for a new classroom building at the Upper Coastal Plains Higher Education Center.
– $108.3 million for a women’s health and mental health medical facility in the Department of Corrections.
– $63.1 million for additions to correctional facilities at Scotland, Bertie, Lanesboro and Tabor.
– $25.7 million to match federal and local funds for water resource and sewer development projects.
– $109.4 million for completion of the Green Square Complex in Raleigh.
– $5 million to be added to $10.2 million in receipts to renovate a berth at the port in Wilmington and $2.5 million for berth construction at the port in Morehead City.
– $40.4 million for a new Capital Area Visitors Center and parking deck in downtown Raleigh.
The budget is available online at: www.osbm.state.nc.us

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