The Senate moved to adopt a bare bones, alternative state budget in case the governor vetoes the $20.2 billion plan the legislature sent her last week.
At the same time, the House started the legislatures typical end-of-session practice of modifying its budget that includes repealing a paragraph that some school districts said would limit their ability to hire teachers, and providing money to keep the state office that helps eugenics victims open another year.
The budget is a mass of moving parts this week as the legislature makes alterations and back-up plans, all while waiting to see whether Gov. Bev Perdue hands down a veto. She has until midnight Sunday, when the new budget year starts, to sign the budget, veto it or have it become law without her signature. Her office offered no indication of her position Wednesday.
Perdue wants legislators to take $100 million from reserve accounts for K-12 schools, N.C. Pre-K, parole officers, compensation for eugenics victims and elections. Legislative leaders said Wednesday she should stop quibbling over a fraction of the $20.2 billion and make a decision.
House Speaker Thom Tillis gave Perdue credit for reaching out for a compromise but didnt like where she wants to take the money from. We are razor thin on reserves, and the last thing we would want to do is raid those reserves to go after what the governor suggested as a compromise, he said.
Tillis suggested it is possible the budget will lead to teacher layoffs because the Republicans didnt fully replace the expiring federal money that pays for about 3,400 people employed in school districts. But he said, There is no way to be certain of that with 115 school districts.
The GOP leaders expressed caution about letting the two-year budget they wrote last year stand for the second year. But they are not willing to reconfigure the spending plan if Perdue vetoes and they are not able to override. Make no mistake about it. We are going home next week, Tillis said.
A Senate committee passed a back-up plan that would do whats legally required to keep the budget already in place good for another year.
Its a back-up plan in case the budget doesnt become law, said Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican and Senate budget writer.
In the meantime, House members began debating a measure that makes changes to the budget sitting in Perdues office.
Among the changes is a directive to use $129,000 from the Department of Administration budget to keep open the N.C. Sterilization Victims Foundation. The state office has helped people find out whether they were sterilized under the auspices of a former state board. The office is set to close at the end of this week.
The measure also repeals a budget provision that limited the way school districts use money from vacant teaching positions to hire new teachers or teacher assistants.
About 15 school districts use an accounting maneuver to turn state-allotted teaching positions into cash to hire teaching assistants and new teachers. Cumberland County schools used the money transfers to hire 120 teachers and Durham hired 70 people using this system.
Both districts said those positions are secure for next year, but the budget provision would limit their flexibility in future hiring.
School boards and administrators are asking the legislature to leave things as they were.
But theres no guarantee the Senate will go along. A member of the legislative fiscal staff told senators that school districts are taking advantage of a loophole where they cash in teaching positions at average state salaries, hire new teachers at beginning salaries, and pocket the difference.