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Lawmakers give details of delayed state budget

Posted August 3, 2009
Updated August 4, 2009

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— North Carolina legislators went through a run-down Monday of the two-year state budget hashed out after weeks of negotiations but might have to wait longer for their own copies.

Legislative budget writers on Monday met to review details of the nearly 300-page spending plan and its 200 pages of supplemental notes.

Negotiators were making sure the language matches the details they agreed to on Friday. Other lawmakers were expected to receive their copies of the budget bill by early Tuesday.

"It has been hard work, seven months of solid work and we think we've got a pretty good budget in spite of the economic times,” said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.

The bill is expected to go up for its two required votes as early as Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The bottom line is you really don't have time to do it justice," Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said. "One day for a 300-page document with all the detail – it's virtually impossible. It's always a rush job. The fact that we're not included in the process is why it's a rush job for us."

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said he believes the current system works fine and that more than 90 percent of legislators already know how they plan to vote.

"For those that want to be diligent, you can do your homework and figure it out in a day, but personally, I have no problem with a longer period," he said. "The end result is going to be pretty much the same."

Among changes made Monday in the nearly $19 billion budget is a measure that would protect class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Districts will have flexibility in reducing spending, but the budget directs schools to preserve the classroom as much as possible in grades 4 through 12.

"They (school district officials) know a whole lot more on how to manage their affairs than do we, and so we tried to make sure that they have the authority to move things around,” said Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland.

On Friday's agreement, budget writers had protected class sizes in grades up to sixth.

"If you've got to add two students to a high school class, it's less harmful than adding two students in K through 3," Blue said.

Earlier House and Senate proposals sought to save more than $300 million annually by eliminating funding for 6,000 teacher positions. That idea was replaced with a deal giving schools flexibility to use textbook or other money to hire as many teachers as possible.

"People are going to be hurt by what we've had to do because of cuts, but we didn't have any other choice,” Michaux said.

When Gov. Bev Perdue laid out her budget priorities, she asked lawmakers to find new revenue sources to lessen the severity of budget cuts in the public schools.

"While sacrifices will be made, I still believe the General Assembly is moving toward consensus on my budget priorities and a budget agreement is within sight," Perdue said.

The agreement also includes a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, raising it to 7.75 cents in most counties.

It would impose a 2 to 3 percent surcharge on the income tax liability owed by individuals with a state taxable income of $60,000 or more and couples with a state taxable income of $100,000 or more.

Consumers would also pay higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol, while the state would claim a bigger share of alcohol taxes, holding onto some money previously distributed to municipalities.

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  • outside_chance Aug 4, 2009

    Hi Mako, I lived in NY (just north of the city and also upstate) and yes,, costs are higher in the city, but even upstate the costs/salaries are much more than here in NC..so that is still a big factor.

    Plus I venture to guess (but don't have data) that the teachers in NY have been there longer. I base that on my kids experience. In NY, there were far fewer new teachers whereas my kids have had a plethora of young teachers here. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but young teachers with less experience get paid less (thus contributing to a lower cost per student).

    Re: 4th / 8th grade students. You are correct, for 4th/8th grade math NC was slightly better than average (19th and 22nd respectively). For reading, the results are similar to the ACT/SAT scores (35th ranked).

    I've had kids in both school systems. I am not knocking the NC schools, I just don't agree we are doing better with less spending because we are more efficient.

  • MakoII Aug 4, 2009

    notonthetest,

    You make valid points with respect to spending numbers in NY, but do remember that NY has 8 million people IN the city and 11 million OUT of the city and those increases still can't be shown to be double overall NC.

    As to testing, don't check rankings of 50 states overall, check 4th and 8th grade EOG testing.

    Last I checked, we are doing better in math, worse in reading, but we're quite close on both.

    I'd like to see more save on busing. Most kids do well based on how motivated their parents are, not how robust the busing is. Although SOME bad schools do require busing to break up problems, they are only a few. (but that will never be tackled because it would be a proven solution)

    Instead of putting some smart kids in with a high percent bad behavior student body like our Magnate schools in Raleigh, we should be doing the opposite, but whatever, those lacking kids were going to lack anyways. I just laugh at the poor AG dumb enough to go there.

  • outside_chance Aug 4, 2009

    Mako, one other comment. I do agree with your statements re: making some cuts on 4 year college (although, I disagree with your assessment that it doesn't prepare you to work as it prepared me just fine).

    But all the recent news on salaries paid to Mary Easley and some of the others at NC state make it obvious that there can be some significant cuts to spending at state universities without impacting the quality of the education.

  • outside_chance Aug 4, 2009

    Teach4ever67,

    thanks for the clarification. I think we are in agreement re: gov't living within means. We also agree that we want to have a first class primary education system and that it can be achieved along with efficiencies.

  • outside_chance Aug 4, 2009

    Hi Mako,

    I understand what you are trying to say, but I don't agree. The last numbers I saw were for 2008 Composite ACT and SAT scores. NC ranked 30th and 37th respectively. Our pupil / teacher ratio ranks 32nd and our spending per pupil is 44th.

    It is hard to argue that we spend our money better.

    This data tells me that: 1) Salaries, cost of living, etc.. are much higher in NY than here in NC. For 2007, the avg. salary of instructional staff in NY is $57354 and avg. salary of instructional staff in NC is $43922. This is market driven based on where they live.

    2) Northern schools have a lot of expenses we don't have here (snow removal, huge heating bills on old schools, unable to utilize efficiencies like the year round schedule, etc..

    These are the drivers of cost per student, not how "efficient" we are here in NC.

  • teach4ever67 Aug 4, 2009

    Notonthetest - please don't think I am one of thoes that trots out the mantra "Not at the expense of the children" in defense of raising taxes. I am no more in favor of all the taxes than what I was when Bev reached into my checkbook back in May and wrote herself a $200 check to help cover up her overspending.

    Like you, I would like to see our governments - local and federal - learn how to live within their means. Cut out all the fat, but leave the meat behind. Get rid of the nepotism and quit scratching the backs of those that are owed favors and do away with pet projects.

    Our country was far better off before we started imposing all these taxes... Unless my memory is incorrect that was one of the reasons we wanted our freedom from Mother England. We thought we were being taxed into submission....

  • MakoII Aug 4, 2009

    notonthetest,

    North Carolina routinely tests at the same levels of states that spend double what we spend.

    That kind of indicates that North Carolinian's are either:

    A) Genetically superior to other states like NY or PA or
    B) We spend the money on KEY factors that affect kids learning.

    Since we spend HALF and spend it BETTER, cuts will show more detrimental effects than in other states who might perceivable cut more than us.

    Yes we spend more on Education than other stuff, every state does, but education is equal to national defense.

    The better educated we are, the better our armies are, the better our businesses are, the better off our civilization is.

    If we got to make cuts to education, do it at the 4 year college level (not community colleges). Learning in the k-12 is more formative and 4 yr college doesn't prepare you to work any ways (it only prepares you for a masters)

    If you're NOT smart enough (or as always, rich enough) you can get college on your own buck.

  • kmb0694 Aug 4, 2009

    "I am personally not OK with it. Actually... unless you really, really underpay your taxes.. it will probably be but a handful of change..... but geez... getting hit in every way possible is getting tiresome."

    Finally! I was starting to think I was the only one. But, as another person posted, the wording now is that the 2% is on your tax liability, not the tax you owe. If you are due a refund, then the surcharge will be deducted from your refund.

  • outside_chance Aug 4, 2009

    Teach4ever67 wrote: "We all need to make sacrifices during these times... I just don't like to see it being made at the expense of our children."

    This is the argument that bothers me the most. I understand what you are saying, but every time there are proposed cuts to education, I hear: "not at the expense of our children".

    True, every school system isn't in the same situation, but education is the largest portion of the state budget.

    Tax revenues are down significantly. It will only get worse as many have lost their jobs (or have cuts wages/hours), people have less to spend so businesses are making less, etc..

    It makes no sense to increase taxes to support the level of spending, it is harmful to the economy and will make things worse. Cuts have to be made and education is the largest bucket.

    I would argue that the tax burden being applied to NC residents in the long run will be far more detrimental to our children than larger class sizes.

  • teach4ever67 Aug 4, 2009

    Notonthetest - I agree that during these times cuts need to be made in MANY areas and that there is a lot of waste. I cannot speak for Wake County schools as I do not work there. I work at a school where we serve over 90% minority students from low-income housing. We have 2 guidance counselors that we keep busy and two administrators (we lost our third one 2 years ago) and the two we have are hard pressed to keep our school moving smoothly while keeping us out of the negative press... Where I am there is not a lot of waste in lower trenches and I really do try to stay objective. But I do see a lot of waste when I look at the overbloated central service positions and their inflated salaries.

    We all need to make sacrifices during these times... I just don't like to see it being made at the expense of our children. They can do what they want to me... I can take it. But I stand strong when they start messing with my kids...

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