NC House, Senate give budget preliminary OK

lbonner@newsobserver.comJuly 23, 2013 

New education laws and eugenics compensation in the $20.6 billion budget caused an uproar among Republican House members, 10 of whom – including one of the chief budget writers – voted against the spending plan.

The House passed the budget on a 66-52 preliminary vote. The Senate followed with a 31-17 vote about 90 minutes later, with one Republican senator opposed.

Each chamber will take final votes on Wednesday and send the spending plan to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.

It’s somewhat unusual for the majority party to lose more than a handful of its members’ on a budget vote. It’s even rarer for a budget committee leader to vote against the budget as did Rep. Linda Johnson, a Kannapolis Republican.

“I was not pleased with the education budget,” Johnson said. She would not elaborate.

No House Republicans spoke against the budget during the debate, but afterward several offered a range of reasons why they were opposed. Some didn’t like that that it phases-out teacher tenure, eliminating it in 2018. Some didn’t like that some teachers working on advanced degrees won’t get the pay raises promised for earning them.

Rep. Nathan Ramsey, a Buncombe County Republican, said he voted for the House version even though it includes a voucher program that gives tax money to some students to attend private schools, something he does not support. The House and Senate pass separate budgets before negotiators in each chamber work on a compromise.

Provisions to end teacher tenure added to the compromise budget pushed Ramsey over the edge.

“When I talk to my teachers back home, they feel like ‘What have you done for us lately,’ ” he said.

With teacher salaries scraping the bottom of national rankings, Democrats said budget writers ignored an opportunity to increase their pay and to keep thousands of teacher assistants and teachers employed.

“This budget is better called ‘No Teacher Left Standing,’ ” said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat.

Medicaid, tax cuts get blame

Republicans blame Medicaid costs for not providing raises for teachers or state employees. Over the next two years, the budget spends about $1.4 billion to account for changes in Medicaid services.

But Democrats said the GOP tax package that cost $86 million this year and $438 million next year is to blame.

“You could find the money in the large tax cuts that were given to out-of-state corporations and very wealthy individuals in our state,” said Rep. Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat.

Rep. Bryan Holloway, a King Republican, said he didn’t like the tenure provision, but no budget is perfect.

“The pros outweigh the cons,” he said. “Fiscally, this budget is as sound a budget as we’ve probably ever seen.”

Eugenics pay doesn’t sway Dems

The budget sets North Carolina apart from other states in a number of ways. It would make the state one of a handful to end tenure.

And from all accounts, North Carolina would be the first state to compensate eugenics victims.

Rep. Larry Pittman, a Concord Republican, said the $10 million in the budget to compensate victims of the state’s forced sterilization program was one of the things that turned him off the budget.

The eugenics compensation was the lever that Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and a lead budget writer, used to try to gain Democratic votes. “My friends on the Democratic side, will you shoulder our part of the load, or will you simply sit on the sidelines of history?” Dollar asked. No Democrats voted for the budget, however.

From the late 1920s to the 1970s, the N.C. Board of Eugenics oversaw the sterilization of nearly 7,600 people.

Many were poor, or were labeled “feeble-minded” or promiscuous. Most of the victims are no longer alive.

Long, lonely fight

Supporters waged a long and sometimes lonely fight for compensation.

“I’m happy for the state of North Carolina but especially for the victims who are finally going to get some recognition and some compensation for this horrendous act,” said former Rep. Larry Womble of Winston-Salem. Womble filed the first bill for compensation more than a decade ago.

The issue languished for years without much action. The pace picked up a few years ago, with a state foundation created to help people find out if they were sterilized under the Eugenics Board auspices.

Verified victims would share $10 million, according to the budget provisions. They must come forward by June 2015.

Janice Black of Charlotte has been living with the aftermath of the sterilization program for 42 years.

The state has verified that she was sterilized as an 18-year-old with her stepmother’s consent, before she had any children. She was one of the many young women labeled feebleminded because of a low IQ score.

Sadie Gilmore Long, Black’s longtime friend and legal guardian, said this week that Black, who is 61, has been following the compensation discussion and is excited about the prospect of an agreement.

“We’re pleased to hopefully get a resolution,” Long said.

She said Black has said she’d like to spend some of the money on a trip to the beach and to New York, where a sister lives. She has also mentioned going to the White House, where she wants to see President Barack Obama.

A $50,000 settlement wouldn’t change her life, Long said, but it would let Black make a couple of trips with money left to invest for her future. “We’re going to praise God for that,” Long said.

Ann Doss Helms of the Charlotte Observer contributed

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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