Under the Dome

NC legislators critique Gov. McCrory’s proposed budget

State Budget Director Lee Roberts, left, with Gov. Pat McCrory at a budget presentation last week. Roberts took questions and concerns from legislators Tuesday morning.
State Budget Director Lee Roberts, left, with Gov. Pat McCrory at a budget presentation last week. Roberts took questions and concerns from legislators Tuesday morning. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Lawmakers voiced questions and concerns Tuesday about Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposal.

Budget Director Lee Roberts spent an hour explaining the spending plan, which was released last week, and many of legislators’ questions involved pay proposals for state employees. The budget doesn’t include an across-the-board raise for all workers, instead targeting raises to specific departments and hard-to-fill positions.

While the budget calls for $60 million to boost the salaries of corrections officers, Rep. Gary Pendleton, a Raleigh Republican, said more should be done. He suggested that prison officers should receive retirement benefits similar to law enforcement officers.

“These people are locked inside all day with the dregs of our society,” Pendleton said, adding that the officers also face “mental abuse.”

State Highway Patrol troopers would get a scheduled 5 percent step increase in the budget. But Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat, noted that the raises address a pending lawsuit from troopers who say they haven’t gotten the promised increases.

Roberts said the budget addresses the concern but declined to speculate on the lawsuit. “Whether that results in a settlement of their legal action, we don’t know,” he said.

While the budget would increase K-12 spending by $291 million next year, Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said he’s still concerned about schools the state has labeled as failing. “One thing I noticed was missing from the budget, and that’s money specifically targeted to the failing schools in the state,” McKissick said.

Some also questioned McCrory’s proposal to cap the use of state dollars for university fundraising to $1 million at each campus.

“It seems that with this cap, we are tying their hands right at a time when they are facing increasing budget pressures,” said Rep. Brian Turner, an Asheville Democrat who’s a former administrator at UNC Asheville.

Roberts said universities should be able to pay for fundraising with private donations. He noted that N.C. State University has used $7 million in state money to raise $130 million. “They can fund that fundraising effort from the money they raised,” he said.

The House will soon begin crafting its own budget proposal, with the Senate developing its plan after that.

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