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North Carolina House make clear budget differences with Senate

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

RALEIGH — Republican House budget committee members made it clear Thursday that they disagree with several spending cuts and policy provisions the Senate approved in its state budget proposal two weeks ago.

The committees worked on a two-year plan that’s heading for a vote by the full House next week. The House and Senate want to get a final negotiated budget to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Here’s a look at their differences and what lies ahead:

EDUCATION

The Senate proposed a 25 percent cut to the Department of Public Instruction, the administrative agency that oversees public schools. But the House plan eliminates that proposal.

The House plan also rejects the Senate’s proposal to expand a program that gives aid to teacher assistants to help them become licensed teachers. Instead, the House would expand funding for another pilot program that gives higher pay to teachers who take on additional instruction or mentoring responsibilities.

The House leaves out a Senate provision creating a second scholarship program for children with disabilities to pay for private schooling and therapy. But it demands specific standardized testing of children receiving taxpayer dollars to attend private or religious schools, designed to evaluate whether the payments are improving student performance.

The House avoided the Senate’s 30 percent spending cut to the University of North Carolina law school in Chapel hill but directed the UNC system to find $22 million in savings next year.

ENVIRONMENT

House budget writers declined to take a hatchet to the Department of Environmental Quality. The Senate had cut the department’s spending by 9 percent and eliminated 45 positions, including the department’s chief deputy.

Most job cuts would have come from shuttering a program designed to help businesses, cities and counties increase recycling and reduce trash. But residents and local governments benefiting from the program persuaded House members to save it, said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

A Senate provision that would tighten eligibility requirements to obtain food stamps — potentially affecting 133,000 people, including 51,000 children and access to free or reduced school lunches — was left out of the House budget.

The House also would attempt to eliminate the waiting list for pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk 4-year-olds by mid-2019, in keeping with Cooper’s budget, although the House would use federal funds to do it, not state funds as Cooper has proposed. The Senate’s plan would only cut the wait list in half.

TRANSPORTATION AND JUSTICE

The House transportation budget focuses more on ferries, coastal dredging and ports and airports, while the Senate budget emphasizes repairing and replacing aging bridges. The House also rejected a Senate provision that would have ended the use of retired judges to fill in during legal emergencies. Instead, they want their use to be limited.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Still unclear is how much the House will raise teacher pay and cut taxes — those will be released early next week. House Republicans have signaled for months that their proposed tax breaks won’t be as substantial as the Senate, whose tax changes would eat up more than $1 billion in revenue through mid-2019.

The House budget proposal will reflect a “good balance of continuing tax reform and tax reduction with making sure that we’re meeting the needs of our citizens,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and the House’s senior budget writer.

But House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said the partially released GOP plan represents “a lot of missed opportunities.” Democrats prefer Cooper’s recommended budget, which would spend $580 million more next year than Republicans and fund programs for community college tuition and broadband access. Cooper’s plan also would expand opioid abuse treatment programs much further than Republicans now propose.

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