Senate passes $20.6 billion budget along party lines

lbonner@newsobserver.comMay 22, 2013 

A heated Senate debate on the $20.6 billion budget proposal centered on a yet-to-be detailed tax overhaul and spending money on education.

After more than 3 hours of debate, the Senate tentatively approved the budget along party lines, 33-17. Republicans touted the plan as responsible while Democrats denounced it as short-changing children, the elderly and rural areas.

During the debate, Democrats proposed an amendment that would have had the state expand Medicaid to about 500,000 working class people. It was defeated.

Before the budget becomes law, lawmakers will have to work out some differences with their counterparts in the House and with Gov. Pat McCrory.

Possible bones of contention

The Senate budget includes items that the House does not want. A sample:

• It eliminates 12 Special Superior Court judges, something the House has already rejected.

• It phases out teacher tenure. The House passed a bill that modifies tenure, but keeps it.

• It sets up a way to grade public school performance that is different from the system approved by the House.

It also differs from McCrory’s proposed budget:

• McCrory gives state employees and teachers 1 percent raises; The Senate budget has no raises.

• McCrory adds $52.4 million and 5,000 slots to the N.C. Pre-K program over two years. The Senate transfers 2,500 slots out of the pre-school program to childcare subsidy in the first year and 5,000 next year.

• McCrory adds 1,800 teachers while cutting funding for teacher assistants except in kindergarten and first grade. Under the Senate budget, some teachers would lose their jobs.

• McCrory keeps the State Bureau of Investigation in the Department of Justice, the Senate budget transfers it to the Department of Public Safety.

• McCrory would increase tuition for out-of-state students at high-demand campuses by 12.3 percent. The Senate budget does not.

• The Senate did not include compensation for victims of the state eugenics program. McCrory included $10 million.

• McCrory wants to reestablish drug treatment courts, spending $7.2 million. The Senate budget does not include drug treatment courts. The Senate budget also closes three state alcohol and drug treatment centers that McCrory would leave open.

Special provisions

The budget is supposed to be about money but – as is often the case – it includes new laws and changes statutes that have nothing to do with money. Here are a few of these so-called special provisions:

• Reduces penalties from Class 2 to Class 3 misdemeanors for driving without obtaining a license, driving without carrying a license, and driving with an expired license.

• Nullifies a decision by UNC-Chapel Hill to allow people of the opposite sex to share on-campus apartments or suites. The budget says the University of North Carolina shall prohibit assignment of members of the opposite sex to the same dorm room, dormitory suite, or campus apartment unless they are related.

• Makes changes to the Coastal Resources Advisory Commission and the Environmental Management Commission that were previously in a bill that couldn’t get through the House. It also wipes out the Institute of Medicine board of directors and replaces them with seven people appointed by the House Speaker, seven appointed by the Senate leader, and seven appointed by the governor.

• Changes worker compensation law with a provision that makes it harder for people injured on the job to continue to collect salary for two years. The injury must be “due to extreme activity” rather than by accident or occupational disease.

Tax plan vs. budget

The budget calls for a 2.3 percent increase in spending next year – and still accounts for a proposed tax plan that would end up having the state collect $217 million less in revenue.

How is that possible?

It’s due in part to the fact that the state had more tax money to spend this year than was expected, there is money from the current budget that it didn’t appropriate, and money that it appropriated that has gone unspent. Add to that money that the Senate budget snags that used to go to special funds. The biggest grab is $137.5 million that would have gone to the Golden LEAF.

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