State News

House begins debate on budget with cuts, taxes

Posted June 11, 2009

State budget

— The House began debating Thursday what Democratic leaders call an austere North Carolina state government budget plan with deep education and health care cuts that could be eased somewhat if several hundred million dollars in taxes and fees are approved.

Faced with an unprecedented 11 percent decline in total tax collections compared to last year, the House had to dig $1.5 billion deeper than either the Senate or Gov. Bev Perdue recommended in their budget proposals less than three months ago.

"The House has had the job of completely rewriting the budget," said Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "We've got a desperate situation and we'll continue to have a desperate situation."

The measure would raise $784 million in additional taxes, about $86 million in fees and spend $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money to close a budget shortfall.

Parliamentary rules require lawmakers to agree to the tax changes separately - including higher sales and income tax rates and levies on liquor and digital downloads - before the current budget can move forward.

That means the House couldn't approve a combined spending and tax plan until after the clock strikes midnight late Friday, at the earliest.

House and Senate leaders are aiming to present a final budget to Perdue before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Even with the $784 million in proposed tax increases, funding for several thousand state positions still would be eliminated.

But the new taxes offer to lawmakers a carrot of restoring the most onerous spending cuts, such as dental and personal care services coverage through Medicaid, giving counties money to house misdemeanor offenders in local jails, and avoiding 2,600 teacher layoffs in kindergarten through third grade, Democrats said.

"The most decimating and dramatic and draconian cuts to the public school system can be avoided in the budget with the additional revenues," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, co-chairman of the education appropriations subcommittee.

Republicans remain opposed to the taxes, arguing that spending levels should have been trimmed in the last two years when times were better.

"The people of North Carolina are in a bad recession," said House Minority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake. "They've had to tighten their belts - government needs to."

Stam said the threat of deep cuts without new taxes has been overstated as a way to raise support from advocate groups to raise revenues, such as drafting schoolchildren to write e-mails.

"That's the oldest budget trick in the book," Stam said.

For example, he said, more than 10,000 teachers leave the profession annually through attrition, or more than the number of positions that had been set for elimination without taxes.

But Democrats said there was a real $4.6 billion shortfall that had to be filled as the result of the declining worldwide economy and that Republicans should welcome cuts to what have been determined to be nonessential programs.

"You have an obligation, friends, to support what is coming out of here," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, the House's chief budget-writer.

The budget bill would still increase class sizes on average by two students beginning in fourth grade to save $184 million, eliminate 200 literacy coaches in middle schools and raise University of North Carolina system tuition by a $200 maximum. Eight prisons and a juvenile offender facility would be closed.

State employees and public school teachers would get no pay raises. The Senate budget approved in April still let teachers receive their annual experience increase. There's also essentially no additional money for capital projects.

The proposed budget also is balanced by taking $270 million from dedicated pots of money, including funds from the national tobacco settlement and earmarked for state building repairs.

Higher fees to get married and divorced also would be required, while impaired drivers and motorists traveling 25 mph over the speed limit also would face additional $350 fines if convicted.

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  • nix1963 Jun 11, 2009

    I miss Jesse Helms, at least he was for this state, nothing wrong with a little bit of conservative better than giving everything away

  • nix1963 Jun 11, 2009

    I don't like ms bev either nor did i vote for her, and i hear about how nc has become more populated sorry i'm not a politically correct person but we have more hispanics here illegally and if the truth be know the raleigh area has alot of northern people here who i hear complain about this state alot, i dont think i need to say more on that subject, we got alot of bleeding hearts in this state and wow how it's changed from the good ole days and not for the better, the furniture businesses are pretty much gone and textiles and now the cigarette companies are gonna be in trouble, we used to have a thriving state, what happened?????

  • SilverWolf Jun 11, 2009

    In other countries law makes such as ours who steal from the citizens a lot of times end up dead on the side of the road. I used to think that was the wrong way to handle things. I'm not so sure anymore. When the average citizen has no recourse to the law and injustice is running rampant, perhaps there is a time when violence is acceptable. At this point, its me or them and I'm not quite ready to lay down and give up the fight yet. If I were a democrat from NC I'd be watching my back right about now. Lots of citizens out there aren't as self controlled as I. Some of these gun toting criminal types might just want to make a name for themselves. And what better way than to take out a corrupt politician. Perhaps the spirit of Robin Hood (Robin Wood was his real name, the Hood came from the thick accent of the locals of the time whose w's sounded like H's). I for one won't lose any sleep when it starts. Just my two cents.

  • affirmativediversity Jun 11, 2009

    Still haven't heard one peep about cutting all the costly english/spanish translation.

    How about all those expensive and NEW Secretary of State International Promotion Jobs?

  • MakoII Jun 11, 2009

    The best way to deal with the budget crisis is to go back to the old days when the State Budget wasn't so high.

    People will go blind and get cancer drinking bad milk or eating bad corn, peanuts. Decriminalizing drugs will help keep the prison population lower. Same with DWI. You used to could have your drunk on and drive anywhere, now we pay to lock you up. Let's get back to some dirt roads, asphalt is totally unnecessary for most roads. And why on earth do we test streams, ground water well, food, air, pesticides, soil, etc for anyways? The public doesn't need safety, they can look out for their own safety. And the store shelves? Buyer beware! If a quart doesn't equal a quart, a gallon is a bit off for your gas, or that fruit isle scale is wrong, well, what's a few pennies here and there. And why license everything? Who needs drivers ID's or registrations for boats. You got a boat, you enter the water.

    We have SUCH waste in our Government that could be cut!

  • MakoII Jun 11, 2009

    Polar-Bear,

    No none knows what you do. Most people don't care. You'll be the first they blame when an inmate kills a guard or gets out. People gets so many services, necessary to society, but don't want to pay for them.

    Thing is, everyone wants something special, and don't want to pay for all the "other" stuff, then equate it to their own "household" income as if that's even a sane analogy.

  • MakoII Jun 11, 2009

    Higher taxes go hand-in-hand with population. You want low taxes, you gotta live in a low population state. Civilization has it's costs.

    All those original North Carolinians who made millions on real estate bubbles gotta pony up for growth, waaaah.

  • Garnerwolf1 Jun 11, 2009

    I love the title of this article: House "begins". They've been here since February. What the heck do they do all that time, if they're just 'beginning'?

  • Bendal1 Jun 11, 2009

    TN has a fraction of NC's population, a high sales tax (over 8% last time I looked; my dad lives there), and county/city property taxes. The road system maintained by the state is a fraction of the total; the rest are handled by the counties and towns they are within, and are nowhere near as well maintained or designed as NC's.

    TX also has a large road network maintained by the state, but many of the roads are dirt tracks out in the western part of the state, and they've also got gas taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, etc, etc, etc.

  • Z Man Jun 11, 2009

    Ya know, if our 'leaders' had the wherewithall to place our needs ahead of a few peoples wants... like our childrens education ahead of pork projects (that stupid teapot museum comes to mind), then maybe the public would not be so upset about a tax hike.

    Until they learn to spend our tax money wisely then you're an idiot if you offer to give them more. Alas, they're going to take it anyway.

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