The Senate took a more conservative approach than the House in drafting a proposed budget for next year, offering to spend about $127 million less than the House and relying less on one-time money to pay ongoing expenses.
The most obvious consequence is that under the Senate plan, K-12 schools would not have as much to spend next year as they would under the House budget.
The House used nearly $227 million in one-time money to help reduce the amount local districts would have to return to the state treasury. The House erased the additional $74 million local school districts would have had to return and compensated for the $259 million in federal stimulus money for schools that runs out in a few months. The Senate budget does not provide state money to fill that $259 million hole.
The decision to limit one-time money also shows up in health spending, where the House budget included more than $8 million for local health programs that the Senate excludes.
We took a very minimalist approach, said Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican and one of the chambers chief budget writers.
The Senate proposes to spend less on K-12 public schools and community colleges than the House does, and more for state universities.
The Senate budget rejects proposals by the House and Gov. Bev Perdue to postpone new and increased tolls on state ferry routes and the Senate goes further by refusing to exempt two ferries that both chambers had agreed last year to keep toll-free.
Perdue had issued an executive order refusing to collect the new tolls. The Senate budget explicitly attacks her order as an unconstitutional attempt to exercise authority that she does not have, and it orders the Department of Transportation to ignore it.
House leaders had agreed with Perdue that ferry-dependent communities deserved a reprieve while they recover from the effects of the recession and Hurricane Irene. The House proposed to give the ferry division an extra $2.5 million to make up for the additional revenues that had been expected from the postponed ferry tolls.
The Senate budget directs the Department of Transportation to institute the higher rates and to collect tolls on all seven DOT ferry routes. That includes two that were exempted a year ago: the Currituck-Knotts Island ferry, used by public school buses, and the states busiest ferry route from Hatteras to Ocracoke, used heavily by tourists and Ocracoke residents.
The Senate budget includes a 1.2 percent raise for state employees, but no guaranteed raise for teachers. The school districts will receive $84 million that they can use for raises or to hire personnel.
We dont have unlimited dollars to put in any particular portion of the budget, said Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican.
Dallas Woodhouse, state director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, said his organization prefers the Senate budget because it believes using one-time money for ongoing expenses is a mistake.
We were concerned that the House budget might leave the next administration with some holes to plug, he said.
But Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the liberal-leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center, said the budget establishes false choices because it does not consider the options to raise taxes or to limit the tax break legislators gave big companies and wealthy businessmen.
The impact of not totally replacing those temporary federal dollars will be significant across the state, she said.
The state Department of Public Instruction calculates that the federal stimulus money pays for more than 5,000 local school employees.
Budget writers rejected the two ideas Perdue came up with to bring in money: a 3/4-cent sales tax increase or a tax on video sweepstakes.
The Senate Budget means more pink slips for teachers and classroom cuts that would threaten our childrens future, Perdue said in a statement. It doesnt have to be this way. I have outlined two alternatives to fund our schools, but Senate Republicans have rejected both. This budget is simply not good enough for our children or the economic future of our State. I call on the Senate to do better.
Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators, said school districts would likely use the $84 million to keep teachers employed rather than give raises.
We are going to see more teachers leaving and youre going to have school systems that dont have the money to replace those teachers, he said. Parents need to be concerned about this budget. You are losing the best teachers out of the profession and you are having larger class sizes for their students.
The Senate budget includes $47.4 million for the elementary school literacy program leaders in that chamber have promoted.
A Senate budget committee will begin debating the plan Tuesday, and the public will be invited to comment, Berger said.
The Senate is on track to pass its budget this week and begin negotiations with the House on a compromise, he said.