RALEIGH, N.C. — The state Senate on Wednesday tentatively approved a budget proposal that spends less than the House but does not go as far as state representatives in reducing expected public school cuts.
After wading through a series of proposed amendments, the Senate voted along party lines 30-18 to pass the $20.2 billion spending plan on its second reading. A final vote is set for Thursday.
Senate Republicans decided to give more financial aid and enrollment money to the University of North Carolina system than the House plan approved two weeks ago, but the budget includes funding to offset only a portion of the $258 million in federal stimulus money to public schools that expires this year.
Senate Democrats said the GOP plan continues to treat public schoolteachers poorly. The funding gap could mean pink slips for 1,000 more teachers, 2,000 teaching assistants and 3,000 other school personnel, they said.
"When parents in your district find out they’re going to lose teachers, they’re not going to be happy campers," Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt said.
Democrats also criticized Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's proposed education reforms, which were rolled into the budget bill, including eliminating teacher tenure.
"What this budget has done is shown teachers how much we don’t appreciate their services to the future of this state," said Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg. “There’s one thing I know. The citizens of North Carolina are watching. Beware."
Berger and other Republicans dismissed the "apocalyptic language" of the Democrats' debate, noting schools continue to operate and that their budget would spend more on schools in the coming year than in the school year that just ended.
"There is a vision in this budget as to what we want public schools to be," said Berger, R-Rockingham.
Democrats called for a temporary sales tax increase to help generate money for schools, and Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said Republicans have "a vision deficit" by sacrificing schools so they could avoid raising taxes.
"Up until now, the vision has always been, we’ll just lay another dollar on it, and that will take care of things," Berger responded.
The Senate budget does provide a 1.2 percent raise to teachers and other state workers, although school administrators say the $84 million set aside for teacher raises will be used to offset the loss of the federal stimulus money instead. The House called for a one-time $250 bonus.
The House budget also set aside $11 million to compensate living victims of North Carolina's forced sterilization program, but the Senate didn't include any money for payments. The Senate used a parliamentary procedure Wednesday to get around a proposed amendment to include funding for eugenics victims.
“You can’t rewrite history," said Sen. Don East, R-Surry. "I’m sorry. I had nothing to do with that. A few dollars ain’t going to change nothing.”
Senators reinstated tolls on coastal ferry routes that Gov. Beverly Perdue wiped out this spring with an executive order. House members had put the tolls on hold for a year.
"Sooner or later, we’re going to have to bite this bullet. We can bite it now, or let it continue to bite us," said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick.
Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, said the Senate plan also tries to place moorings upon Medicaid by setting aside another $330 million for the financially strapped health program.
Once the Senate budget is approved, House and Senate members will negotiate a final spending plan to send to Perdue by the end of the month. The new budget would take effect on July 1.