Raleigh, N.C. — After a move toward a deal last week, House and Senate leaders appear to be firmly re-entrenched on key differences in their competing spending plans.
At an open meeting of budget negotiators Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown rolled out an offer reprising the Senate's past positions on lottery revenue and advertising, teacher and state employee pay raises and Medicaid cuts.
The main concession in the latest Senate offer is that teachers would no longer be required up to give their career status, or tenure, rights to receive a pay raise. The Senate would also agree to leave the State Crime Lab under the Attorney General's Office as the House proposed.
Senate Republicans grilled House senior budget chairman Rep. Nelson Dollar on the House's bid to increase lottery advertising spending from 1 percent of revenue to 2 percent in order to bring in an additional $30 million, while at the same time adding new restrictions on that advertising.
"It’s almost counterproductive, in our opinion, to take that approach," said Brown, R=Onslow, noting that increasing ad spending to just 1.25 percent while avoiding new restrictions would bring in $20 million.
Dollar, R-Wake, said the House GOP caucus "feels very strongly" that the restrictions, originally proposed as the "Honest Lottery Act," ought to be implemented with any increase in lottery ads "to make sure that the advertising was at least mathematically truthful."
Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said he's opposed to any increase in lottery ads. He said the House proposal to increase ad spending from $17.5 million to $35 million a year would "cover up our airwaves."
"Can you imagine the Coney Island atmosphere that we’re going to have? Buy your ticket now, get rich quick!" Hunt said. "Do we want that kind of atmosphere in North Carolina? I don’t think so."
Hunt said few of the current Republican majority in the General Assembly voted in favor of the lottery back in 2005.
"I can’t recall since 2011 a bill being filed to repeal the lottery," Dollar responded. "So, obviously we’re sanguine enough with – we’re kind of where we are, where we are."
Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, was more blunt.
"We’re either in the gambling business or we’re not," Holloway said. "We only get a couple hundred million from the lottery, but if we get $400 million, all the sudden we become sinners?
"We’re going to be here till Christmas, folks," he said. "We’re going to need to get it moving."
With no agreement on lottery revenue in sight, the discussions turned to teacher pay proposals.
Brown said the Senate's proposed 11 percent increase would get the state's teacher salaries closer to the national average much more quickly than the House's 5 percent plan.
But Holloway replied that the Senate is cutting 7,400 teacher assistant positions to pay for the raise.
"I'm glad you all want to give more, but it’s where you're getting the money to do it," he said.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said the Senate would prefer to spend money to “upgrade the quality of the teacher,” rather than on teaching assistants.
"Teachers assistants really haven’t functioned as well as people keep bragging about," Rucho insisted, pointing to low reading proficiency scores in early grades.
"We've been cutting away money for teaching assistants for years," Holloway protested, saying the House has had nothing but positive feedback to its 5 percent raise plan. "We don't want to put anybody out of work."
"We’re just trying to lay out why the Senate proposed the budget it proposed," Brown said. "We’d love to see some offers or counteroffers from the House. We’ll continue to negotiate in good faith."
The conferees are scheduled to meet again Wednesday morning for a counteroffer from the House.