NC Senate budget shifts Medicaid to new state agency

lbonner@newsobserver.com jfrank@newsobserver.comMay 29, 2014 

medicaid

Lou Wilson, government relations director for the North Carolina Association, Long-Term Care Facilities, left, talks with Sen. Ralph Hise about the cuts in Medicaid proposed in the Senate budget during a break in Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh Thursday, May 29, 2014.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Hours after its debut, state lawmakers began considering the Senate’s $21.2 billion budget proposal, a vast proposal that makes major shifts in state policy and spending.

The bill cleared its first hurdle at noon Thursday and next moves to two other committees with final Senate votes expected Friday and Saturday.

Gov. Pat McCrory expressed reservations with major parts of the Senate budget in a statement released by his office Thursday. He noted there were major differences between his plan for teacher pay and that in the Senate budget.

“I think we need a more comprehensive approach, long-term sustainable and fiscally responsible approach on how we are going to pay our teachers in the future so it’s a career as opposed to a one-time pay increase,” he said in the statement.

But he added that he hoped “to resolve those differences during the next several weeks.”

The Senate wants to spend $470 million for a substantial pay hike for teachers. To pay for it, Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, told his colleagues that the budget diverts $390 million from the education budget to pay for teacher salaries. About $100 million comes from an expected enrollment reduction but much of the cut now pays 7,400 teacher assistants, Republican lawmakers said.

Senate Republican leader Harry Brown said the budget is “clean and straightforward.”

But Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue disputed the notion. “What this bill has done is to burn the schoolhouse down to give the teachers the insurance check,” he said.

Another major shift is Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. The Senate plan would shift it out of the Department of Health and Human Services into the oversight of a new agency. Sen. Louis Pate, a Mount Olive Republican, said lawmakers are “sick and tired” of propping up Medicaid, so it needs to move.

Those changes and others also concerned McCrory, who said that after a short review “we have some very serious concerns ... regarding the impact on our operations and Department of Transportation and environmental protection, Commerce Department, in Health and Human Services and in education.

“It’s my job as governor to protect the efficient and effective operations of state government and good customer service. And I think the budget submitted by the Senate causes us some great concerns in that area and we will be giving more details on what our concerns are.”

Crafted behind closed doors in recent weeks, the Senate budget was released at 10 p.m. Wednesday and the full appropriations committee began discussing it at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. The budget subcommittees won’t meet to dissect different parts of the bill, as is often the process.

Other provisions of the budget replace the entire Industrial Commission deputy commissioners, closes two state prisons and puts in motion a plan to close Elizabeth City State University or remove it from the UNC system.

Bonner: 919-829-4821; Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner

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