Bill makes about 3 dozen tweaks to state budget

Democrat gets perk for district

Staff writerJune 18, 2011 

  • Here are the highlights of the $19.7 billion North Carolina state government spending plan for 2011-2012, contained in the two-year budget enacted this week after the House and Senate overrode Gov. Bev Perdue's veto:

    Taxes and fees

    The budget lets expire a temporary penny sales tax increase and surtax on corporate income and individual income tax originally approved in 2009, losing $1.3 billion in state revenues.

    It generates more than $100 million in fees, of which about one-third would go to counties if separate criminal justice reforms are approved.

    It also creates a tax break on the first $50,000 of net income for small businesses.

    Education

    The budget spends $10.99 billion on public schools, the UNC system and community colleges - $248 million less than Perdue had proposed.

    It retains state funding for teacher assistant and teaching positions, and provides $62 million to hire 1,124 additional teachers in early grades. Local school districts, however, are required to find $124 million in additional cuts, with reductions made at their discretion.

    It reduces funding for new textbooks by $92 million and instructional supplies by $42 million.

    It reduces the state funding allotment to pay for school janitors, clerical staff and other personnel by 15 percent, for central staff in districts by 16 percent, and for assistant principals by 19 percent.

    It requires the UNC system to find $414 million in savings, with the cuts at administrators' discretion.

    It reduces funding for both the More at Four preschool program and the Smart Start early childhood initiative by 20 percent.

    It increases community college tuition by $10 per credit hour to $66.50 for residents and $258.50 for nonresidents.

    Health

    The budget abolishes the Health and Wellness Trust Fund, which receives 25 percent of the state's share of the national tobacco settlement.

    It reduces spending in the agency that oversees Medicaid to a level $222 million less than the governor's proposal, along with cuts to mental health funding.

    It eliminates the remaining $50,000 in the State Abortion Fund designed to help low-income families. The fund has been largely dormant for many years.

    It prevents the Department of Health and Human Services from providing funds to Planned Parenthood.

    Environment

    The budget eliminates 30 positions in seven regional offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

    It transfers the Forestry Division and the Division of Soil and Water Conservation from the State Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture.

    It gives the Clean Water Management Trust Fund $11.25 million, and repeals a law that says it should get $100 million a year.

    Justice

    The budget eliminates 11 jobs in the Community Corrections Technology Center, and gives responsibility to a contractor for the oversight of people on house arrest with electronic monitoring.

    It reduces chaplains at minimum and medium security prisons.

    It requires the SBI to sell one of its three aircraft.

    It reduces 55 support staff positions for district attorneys.

    It eliminates all state funding for drug treatment court and Sentencing Services programs.

    It eliminates 21 staff psychologists, a housing unit supervisor and youth counselor technicians in the juvenile justice system.

    It closes four minimum security prisons as part of criminal justice reforms.

    Culture

    The budget reduces funding for "The Lost Colony," the outdoor drama, and eliminates funding for the High Point Shakespeare Festival and Vagabond School of Drama in Flat Rock.

    It reduces state funding to local libraries by 13 percent.

    Miscellaneous

    The budget requires tolls on all state-operated ferries except for two routes: between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, and between Knotts Island and mainland Currituck County.

    It increases by $248.1 million contributions to public employee retirement.

    It provides no pay increases for state employees and public school teachers, but it directs a merit-pay study.

    It sets aside $185 million more in the state's rainy day reserve fund, and $125 million for government building repairs and renovations.

    It eliminates all funding for the e-NC Authority, which works on expanding broadband service to rural areas.

    It increases prices in the legislative cafeteria and snack bar by 10 percent.

    Compiled by The Associated Press and staff writer Lynn Bonner

    Source: Report on the Continuation, Expansion, and Capital Budgets for the final budget bill

Tryon Palace would get a reprieve, a prison in Bladen County would stay open, and the lieutenant governor would be able to keep his cellphone.

The legislature passed a measure Saturday that makes about three dozen changes to the budget they approved this week. One addition helps one of the five House Democrats who voted with the Republican majority to pass the budget and override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto.

The budget calls for closing four minimum-security prisons. The new bill, which makes "technical corrections" to the budget, specifies that the Bladen Correctional Center cannot be one of them. The Department of Correction would be prohibited from closing it for two years.

Rep. Bill Brisson, a Democrat who represents Bladen, said last month that he voted initially for the GOP-written budget because a House amendment prohibited the state from closing the Bladen prison. That prohibition was not written into the final budget the legislature passed. Now, it's back in writing.

Legislators pass a technical corrections bill after every budget that serves as a kind of clean-up bill. Sometimes the changes are the results of last-minute persuasion.

In the clean-up bill, the requirement that Tryon Palace, an important tourist destination in New Bern, become self-sufficient by mid-2014 would be dropped. The palace also would get an additional $500,000 next year, reducing its state budget cut from $1.5 million to $1 million, Kay Williams, Tryon's director, said.

"The impact is huge," she said. The additional money allows the palace to keep attractions open while working on a strategy to raise more private money.

The palace probably will have to begin charging for attractions that are now free, she said, and step up its outreach to donors.

"Clearly, there's been a sea change, and we recognize that," she said. "In some ways, it was where we were going naturally. We have always viewed ourselves as a public-private partnership."

The clean-up bill also allows Gov. Bev Perdue to keep the 18 jobs in her office that Republican legislators had targeted for elimination. Perdue still has to save $1.4 million, but she gets to decide what to cut. Among those targeted were spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson and Deputy Communications Director Mark Johnson.

The budget, which cut cellphone expenses in various departments by 25 percent to 30 percent, apparently cut too deep in Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton's office: One of the technical provisions adds money so Dalton can keep his phone.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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