State Politics

NC House wants to keep some programs cut in Senate budget

Speaker of the House Tim Moore talks with someone as the N.C. General Assembly meets in a special session at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, NC on Wednesday evening, Dec. 14, 2016.
Speaker of the House Tim Moore talks with someone as the N.C. General Assembly meets in a special session at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, NC on Wednesday evening, Dec. 14, 2016. cseward@newsobserver.com

Some of the cuts in the budget plan that has passed the N.C. Senate aren’t included in a partial budget released by the N.C. House Thursday – setting up negotiations between Republican leaders over the fate of food stamps, the Governor’s School and other programs.

The House isn’t expected to release its full $22.9 billion spending plan until Tuesday. None of the budget documents released Thursday included any details about pay and benefits for teachers and other state employees, or details about tax policy and fee changes.

Budget subcommittees met Thursday morning to discuss spending plans for specific areas of state government, including education, transportation and health and human services.

“Our goal is to set the right priorities and ensure our citizens’ tax dollars are spent wisely in ways that will improve our schools, grow our economy and improve the quality of life for all North Carolinians,” House budget writer Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, said in a news release.

While Democrats voiced concerns with some provisions in the House, they also had praise for the proposal. “This budget is much, much better than the Senate budget,” said Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat.

Here are some key differences between the House and Senate plans:

Food stamps: The House did not include a budget provision that changes eligibility requirements for the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – commonly known as food stamps. The Senate’s proposal would have resulted in 133,000 people losing access to food stamps, including 51,000 children. A Senate Republican said the change would ensure a more fair system that “ensures benefits are delivered to those who are truly in need of them.”

The House budget makes no changes to eligibility requirements.

Governor’s School: The House wants to keep funding the Governor’s School, a high school summer enrichment program that’s more than 50 years old.

The Senate called for eliminating state funding for the program after this year and funneling the money to a different summer program, the Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service, and a science program run by the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

Light-rail funding: The House plan would eliminate a cap on state funding for light-rail projects that has created major challenges for the planned Chapel Hill-Durham light-rail line. The Senate budget doesn’t change the cap.

Anti-abortion pregnancy services: The House includes $1.3 million for the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, which describes itself as “life-affirming ministries” for pregnant women. The Senate budget includes $400,000 for the group.

Preschool funding: The House includes funding to add slots to a pre-kindergarten program to eliminate its waiting list, a provision that also appears in Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget. The Senate would also add funding to the program with the aim of cutting the waiting list in half.

Inmate litter: The House budget eliminates roadside litter cleanup by prison inmates. The state Department of Transportation decided to stop funding the program. House and Senate budget writers think it will be cheaper to contract for private roadside cleanup.

Fort Fisher: The historic attraction near Wilmington would get $5 million for a new museum and visitors center, an item included in Cooper’s budget. The Senate did not include funding for the project.

Opioid treatment: The opioid epidemic has been a hot topic in this year’s budget process, and the House plan mirrors the original version of the Senate budget, with $250,000 for a treatment program in Wilmington. The House budget doesn’t include the Senate’s last-minute expansion of that program to serve other communities, which was part of a 3 a.m. amendment that stripped funding from education and other programs in counties represented by Democrats. The House budget partially funds the education programs as well as another Senate cut, a program to bring fresh produce to food deserts.

Map Act: The House budget includes a provision repealing the Map Act, which allows the state Department of Transportation to reserve land for roads it plans to build in the future. The House voted to repeal the controversial law in 2015, but the Senate took a different approach. This year’s Senate budget wouldn’t repeal the law but would extend a moratorium on reserving additional property.

State nursing jobs: The House budget would eliminate 196 vacant nursing positions and put the money into hiring temporary nurses from third-party providers. The Senate budget includes the same provision. Budget writers say it is hard to recruit and retain nurses.

Law enforcement agencies: The House plan would elevate the state’s alcohol and capitol law enforcement agencies to standalone divisions within the state Department of Public Safety, and give the directors of those new divisions the authority to hire and fire their own officers and other staff. The Senate budget mirrors this provision.

Currently, the State Capitol Police is a part of the State Highway Patrol, while the state Alcohol Law Enforcement is under the State Bureau of Investigation. All are contained within the state Department of Public Safety, which also houses adult prisons and juvenile detention, emergency management and the state National Guard.

The House is not including the Senate’s budget provision to make prisons and juvenile justice a cabinet-level department.

Police cameras: The House wants to establish a $2 million matching grant program to buy in-car and body-worn cameras for local and county law enforcement. The Senate doesn’t budget for this.

New criminal justice jobs: The House plan pays for 30 new state trooper positions, 56 deputy court clerks and 37 assistant district attorneys. The Senate budget includes 56 new clerks and 37 new prosecutors, but not the additional troopers.

Textbooks: The House wants $10.4 million more for textbooks and digital materials, bringing the total next year to $65.8 million. The Senate would add $11.1 million.

DPI hires: The House budget adds $921,000 for up to 10 employees that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson would hire. The plan also provides for a new associate superintendent of early education who would report to Johnson. The budget includes $250,000 to support an interagency council on early education. The new associate superintendent would help lead the council. The Senate budget gives Johnson five positions and does not include a new associate superintendent or interagency council.

School funding: The House budget would set up a legislative task force to come up with a new way to fund public schools. The Senate budget does not include the task force.

Class size: The House plan requires a report on the limits on classroom space that would make it hard for schools to meet individual class-size requirements for K-3 grades without building expansions. This is not in the Senate budget.

Vouchers: The House budget requires students using vouchers from the state to attend private schools to take the Iowa Test, a national achievement test. The Senate budget doesn’t have this requirement.

Charter schools: The House would open an avenue for more low-performing schools to be taken over by charter operators. Current law allows takeover of up to five schools statewide. The change is not in the Senate budget.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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