Teacher assistants got a reprieve Tuesday as Republican leaders presented a new budget proposal designed to withstand a possible veto from Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
The new $19.7 billion budget deletes the deep cuts to teacher assistants that were in the earlier Senate and House proposals. The budget keeps money to hire more than 1,100 teachers to reduce class sizes in first through third grades. But local school districts must find more savings, $124 million, on their own.
The budget has the backing of at least five House Democrats, but Perdue and state education leaders were quick to call the rewrite little more than a shell game that drains public schools and universities.
Republican leaders, however, touted their plan as a protecting classrooms while cutting spending and letting the 1-cent temporary sales tax increase expire.
"I think this is a responsible, reasonable budget to move North Carolina forward," said Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican. The full Senate is expected to take a preliminary vote today.
Democrats said the budget moves money around to try to camouflage holes.
Perdue stepped up her opposition in a conference call with reporters.
"What you've got in the Senate budget is just a shuffling around of money," she said. "It's a charade of sorts - trying to paper over the devastation to education and other important programs by using one-time money."
The new proposal includes significant rewrites of the $19.4 billion plan key Senate committees approved last week.
To keep more money, the Senate budget gets rid of the proposed individual income tax cut proposed last week.
The budget also takes back $72 million the Senate proposed last week to send to local school districts for construction.
Ann McColl, the State Board of Education lobbyist, said the $124 million in cuts comes on top of more than $300 million already built into the budget that local districts will lose. That amounts to $429 million local school districts will have to return to the state, she said.
"Some of the really tough decisions about positions and job losses are just being passed down to the local level," she said.
Shifts to local level
According to the state Department of Public Instruction, Wake schools would have to cut $42.3 million, Durham County schools, $9.4 million, and Johnston County schools, $9.5 million.
Perdue's budget also shifted some state education expenses to local school districts, making school bus replacement, payment of workers' compensation claims and lawsuits local responsibilities. GOP budget writers did not go along with those suggestions.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said Perdue's rhetoric does not match the budget numbers. The difference between the Perdue proposal and the legislative plan for total education spending on K-12 public schools, community colleges and state universities is a few percentage points, he said.
The GOP budget does cut assistant principals, school clerks, janitors, guidance counselors and other school workers, reductions Democrats say would not be needed if Republicans agreed to keep at least part of the temporary sales tax increase.
Perdue said the budget needs more money in it, but would not say whether she would veto it.
"There are a lot of moving parts to this whole thing," she said.
Rep. Jim Crawford, an Oxford Democrat who worked on the budget deal, said he hopes Perdue doesn't veto the budget. He has not decided what he'll do if she does.
"That's a little ways down the road," he said.
Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed to this report.
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