State News

State lawmakers return; closing budget hole is focus

Posted May 10, 2010
Updated May 12, 2010

— North Carolina legislative leaders are trying to prevent the economic recession from prolonging the General Assembly’s so-called “short” session.

Lawmakers return formally to work Wednesday for another round of tough spending choices as state tax revenues have failed to keep up with costs for the new fiscal year starting July 1.

State budget Lawmakers got in early work on budget

While the $788 million budget gap is nowhere close to last year’s fiscal chasm, spending reductions in education and health programs and at dozens of state offices will occur. Since additional broad tax increases appear off the table, requests by Gov. Beverly Perdue and others to expand programs or restore previous cuts will get close scrutiny, too.

“This is the beginning of some very difficult choices we’re going to have to make over the next several weeks,” said Sen. Tony Foriest, D-Alamance, an education budget subcommittee co-chairman. “This is not going to be easy.”

Lawmakers have been meeting two or three days a week for the past month to try to minimize House and Senate differences to adjust the second year of the spending plan they approved last summer. Perdue also helped out by rolling out her $19.2 billion budget adjustment proposal three weeks early.

The Senate expects to send its budget proposal to the House by the end of next week, said Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth, the Senate's senior budget writer.

It’s all part of a familiar refrain by chamber leaders during even-numbered years – finish the budget by July 1 and go home – but the legislature hasn’t completed a spending plan on time since 2003.

"We're going to do the budget and get out of here by the end of June," House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said. "What we don't want to do is get bogged down on controversial issues that we can't act on."

Changes to the state’s ethics and campaign finance laws also have to be worked through before adjournment, along with some way to deal with an influx of sweepstakes games that local judges have ruled escape the state’s video poker ban. Reforms to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system also are on tap.

Democrats want to keep the election-year session focused on issues that play well with voters, like encouraging job growth and lessening the financial pain on public schools, the University of North Carolina and community college systems.

“Jobs will be our first priority in ways that we can retain them, expand them, attract them,” House Speaker Joe Hackney said. “Saving education in the budget in the extent we can at all three levels will be certainly a top priority as well.”

Lawmakers plan to fill the deficit with a mix of responsible cuts and federal stimulus dollars.

"We know that our priorities are to protect education and to protect our vulnerable citizens and to do whatever we can to create jobs," Garrou said. "Those are our three main focuses for the short session."

Republicans, who remain in the minority in both chambers but have the wind at their backs entering the campaign season, will argue again that Perdue and her fellow Democrats have raised taxes needlessly because the budget gap isn’t that large and they ignored less painful ways to cut spending.

Perdue’s $86 million proposal of tax breaks and incentives for businesses to create jobs is “pitiful” and won’t help employment, House Minority Leader Paul Stam said.

“They’ve done this billion-dollar tax increase, and now they’re going to give back 5 percent and say that they’re creating jobs,” said Stam, R-Wake.

Education advocates also plan to fight additional spending cuts for local school districts proposed by Perdue above the $305 million already in place for the fall, arguing thousands of additional education jobs could be eliminated above the 5,000 teacher and staff positions removed this year.

The district spending cuts may shrink if Perdue is willing to give up spending on experience-based pay raises for teachers and her effort to pay back state employees and teachers the 0.5 percent salary reductions she required of them last year to close a budget shortfall.

She also wants her college- and career-ready initiative funded. The initiative would spend $39 million on hand-held computers in elementary school classrooms so teachers can better monitor student achievement. Health care advocates are pleased that lawmakers agree for now with Perdue to restore $40 million in funds to local mental health agencies after steep cuts last year reduced services.

“We need to stabilize,” said Dave Richard, executive director of the Arc of North Carolina, which advocates for the mentally disabled. “Keep the funding as level as we can and let us get through these cuts and manage that before we do a lot of other massive changes.”

Momentum has increased for three campaign finance and ethics bills approved by the House last year and awaiting Senate action as headlines focused upon federal and state investigations of activities surrounding former Gov. Mike Easley and his associates and illegal campaign contributions by a Wilmington businessman.

The legislation would delay more state officials from lobbying government until well after they leave state employment; ban state contractors from giving to elected officials who approve contracts that benefit the vendor; and require board appointees to report campaign donations and fundraising for elected officials who appointed them. Perdue unveiled her own ideas last month.

“For both political parties to retain their credibility, they need to end the perception that they’re not honest,” said Jane Pinsky with the bipartisan North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

Legislative leaders also must decide what to do about:

  • Legislation approved by the House that would make it more difficult for cities and towns to annex neighboring lands against the wishes of property owners
  • A Senate bill requiring commercial dog breeders to register with the state and meet operational standards
  • A Senate ban on building wind turbines on mountain ridges and requiring wind farms to get a state permit
  • A House bill that would change negligence cases so that a plaintiff would get an award proportionate to the defendant’s percentage of fault
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  • pbjbeach May 11, 2010

    hpr641:

    I personaly am unable to tell the difference in the people in the nc general assembly & nc senate & the people in central prison. I n fact i have come to the conclusion that the one that are lock up in cedntral prison might just be of better etichical an moral standards than the people in the nc legisture not much if any real difference in the tow instituations only the fact that the ones in central are already convicted felons an the one in the sttae legisture have juust not been convicted as yet an yes you can throw in bev & mikey an the whole crowd to thank you

  • pbjbeach May 11, 2010

    tattermommy52

    I have said for the very first that the state education lottery wouldn't be or amount to anything but a pile of money for the states politicians to use like their own private slush fund for whatever they wanted to use it for an this is apparently what has come to pass.

    tarheelmendi
    did you say the nasty word of (raise) in your posting on here state employees are doomed to never ever again receive a legistive raise of any real substance until they finally are allowed to get a real bargining chip in the game an actually be allowed to have collective bargining rights with this state . this in my own personal opinion an state employees will never evre again see a legetive raise in any form until they do finally have collective bargining. the politicans in this state are running every thing between themselves an the special instrest an the coporate instrets that is all that the governor an the legisture alike are concerned with thank you

  • Garnerwolf1 May 11, 2010

    'How do you tell a politician is lying? His/her mouth is moving.' Beginning Wed, call, write, or email your Legislator and tell them you expect them to be out of Raleigh by July 1.

    NEVER vote for an incumbent.

  • tarheelmendi May 10, 2010

    State employee here, not only would it be just fab to get back what we lost last year, but how about a raise??? Seems like every year my coworkers and I work harder and harder but we don't get a raise. We get more work, fewer benefits, AND less money. If the state would focus on KEEPING good employees maybe things would run more smoothly. Lots of state employees have to look else where for work or find secondary employment to make ends meet now. Cost of living going up and up and we have not had raises in YEARS (unless you are a teacher).

  • CoCo May 10, 2010

    We can't have them working too hard now...so many taxes to add, so little time...

  • rand321 May 10, 2010

    privitize ABC stores and let alcohol be sold in grocery and other stores!

  • tatermommy52 May 10, 2010

    Tell the Democratic led government to quit stealing the lottery money from the children and to apologize for telling the public a lie.

  • LL4U May 10, 2010

    Oh boy, let's see how much money they can waste while they are "back in town". Maybe if they actually worked a 40 hr week they could get things done in a timely manner. I'd like to have the money they get for expenses every week!!

  • 1carpe May 10, 2010

    "They do not have a budget hole. They have a spending problem." Great comment, you think we could get them to write it on the blackboard 1000 times each. One way they could help cut costs a small amount: Only get paid the same per diem state employees get paid, only get paid that amount if they live far enough out of town, and not get paid per diem when they are not in town. It would be a small start a could even be considered (OMG) leadership.

  • whatelseisnew May 10, 2010

    They do not have a budget hole. They have a spending problem. It would be quite lovely if the media would start using the correct terms. They need to cut the current spending plan to 15 billion dollars. Anything they take in over that amount needs to be used to eradicate State debt.

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