Raleigh, N.C. — The proposed $22.9 billion state budget moving through the Senate spells out numerous managerial jobs at state agencies that would be eliminated if the spending plan is approved.
When they rolled out their budget proposal Tuesday, Senate leaders touted teacher raises and other increases to education spending, tax cuts and deposits to the state reserve fund, but they didn't provide details on how they would accomplish those priorities and still balance the budget.
The 358-page budget bill that was filed shortly before midnight Wednesday filled in those details.
While education spending goes up by $600 million in the Senate budget, the state Department of Public Instruction would see its operating budget slashed by 25 percent. Several positions at the State Board of Education, which is engaged in a tug-of-war with Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson for control over DPI, would be cut, while Johnson would receive $433,000 to hire up to five people who would report to him – the hires wouldn't need state board approval.
Teachers wearing red packed Senate budget hearings on Wednesday, expressing displeasure with the raises included in the budget. Although the average raise would be 3.7 percent next year, veteran teachers with 25 years or more experience in the classroom would be left out altogether.
"What this budget means to me is they don't want us here, and if they want us here, they don't value our seniority, our skills and our leadership," said Rhonda Riggins, a teacher at Turner Creek Elementary School in Cary with 25 years of experience.
"Our students deserve better than this," said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
A report out Wednesday placed North Carolina 35th nationwide in teacher salaries and 43rd in per-student spending.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said that, with a priority on boosting salaries for teachers earlier in their careers to attract and retain top talent, something had to give.
"There's not enough for the top teachers," Tillman said.
"There's never enough money," agreed Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the chief budget writer in the Senate. "If you fund everything that everybody wants, you'd have a $50 billion budget instead of about a $23 billion budget. So, it's not easy."
Elsewhere in the education budget, the University of North Carolina School of Law, home to the Center for Civil Rights, which has long been a bane to lawmakers, would see a 30 percent budget cut under the proposal, and state funding for the Governor's School, a summer program for gifted high school students, would be diverted starting in 2018-19 for a new Legislative School for Leadership and Public Service.
Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Quality's operating budget is reduced by 6 percent in the proposed budget, with Chief Deputy Secretary John Nicholson, a retired Marine colonel among those whose jobs would be eliminated. The Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service, which works with businesses and communities with environmental regulations and permitting, boosting recycling, energy efficiency and cutting emissions, would be gutted, losing 46 positions in its Raleigh and regional offices.
All state funding to North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University and Appalachian State University for energy research would be eliminated, and energy research funding to Research Triangle Park-based RTI International would drop by 40 percent.
The Office of Science Technology & Innovation in the Department of Commerce would be eliminated, and funding to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center would be cut by 5 percent.
The budget for the Wildlife Resources Commission would be cut by 18 percent.
The Department of Transportation would lose 400 positions, and another 183 positions that oversee picking up litter and roadside trash also would be eliminated.
Funding that had to pay for emergency judges would instead be used to hire 32 assistant district attorneys and 56 court clerks statewide. Brown said the shift would improve court efficiency and help decrease case backlogs.
The director of the state Human Relations Commission would be laid off, and the rest of the staff moved from the Department of Administration to the Office of Administrative Hearings, an independent quasi-judicial agency.
The budget also includes several policy-oriented provisions:
- No new wind farm projects could be approved until a consultant finishes a study and issues maps showing areas where they could and couldn't go, based on the potential to interfere with military training.
- The certificate of need system that regulates when and where new health care facilities can go around the state would be eliminated by 2025.
- Sixteen- and 17-year-olds charged with non-violent crimes would no longer be tried as adults by 2020.
- State workers who are hired after July 1, 2018, wouldn't be entitled to health benefits when they retire.
Senators already were taking heat for choosing to put another $363 million in the state "rainy day" reserve fund instead of giving bigger raises to state workers. Under the plan, state employees would get a 1.5 percent or $750 raise, whichever is larger, while retirees would get no cost-of-living adjustment to their pensions.
"Do we have to continue to decide if we are going to buy our medicines, if we're going to buy our groceries and if we're going to pay our rent?" asked Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, calling for a COLA for retirees.
"The money only went so far, and I'd rather have the system solvent," Tillman said.
Here are some other items found in the 500-page Senate Appropriations Committee report on the budget:
- $28 million to reimburse students for driver education courses
- $2.2 million in new Division of Motor Vehicle fees
- A $15 million grant fund for film productions
- An extra $3 million for the state public health laboratory
- $2 million in "stabilization" funds to prepare for future Department of Defense base closings and realignments
- Four new staff positions at the North Carolina Museum of Art park
- $1 million each for oyster sanctuaries and farmland preservation
- An extra $1 million for transitional housing for people leaving prison
The budget measure cleared a series of Senate committees and subcommittees on Wednesday and is scheduled for its two required floor votes on Thursday and Friday before heading to the House.