Senate walkout, anger mark budget meeting

Posted July 9, 2014

— A day of scheduled budget negotiations got off to a rocky start Wednesday morning after House leaders insisted on hearing from outside experts on education spending.

Senate negotiators responded by walking out of the meeting. They returned an hour later, but the good feelings of compromises reached last week on Medicaid funding were long gone by then.

"This moves us nowhere," Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said of a House counteroffer on the budget. "To me, this is barely worth the ink used to print it."

"The House needs to send us a legitimate offer," said Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, one of the Senate chairmen of the conference committee.

House Senior Budget Chairman Nelson Dollar acknowledged the offer merely shifted some numbers around, but he said the House gave up some major ground last week on Medicaid. He said the Senate budget, which would eliminate Medicaid eligibility for thousands, would shortchange the needy.

"Do we help those who cannot help themselves?" Dollar said. "I don't see those things as welfare. I see those as us treating our fellow ... citizens of our state in a humane way."

Brown said General Assembly had to prioritize Medicaid funding for years, which limited spending elsewhere. But lawmakers had agreed to make teacher raises the top priority for the 2014-15 budget, and they need to adjust Medicaid spending to accommodate that.

"You've got to send some type of message that a budget means something," he said, noting that lawmakers repeatedly have had to fill budget holes after Medicaid cost overruns. "What's the priority in this particular budget?"

The two chambers had agreed to share control of the budget meeting time throughout the day, with the House chairing the first hour and the Senate taking over for the second.

Dollar, R-Wake, opened the meeting by noting that the House had invited educators and other outside experts to speak on the importance of teacher assistants in the classroom. 

Brown objected, saying that conference committees are not open to testimony from anyone who isn't on the committee – not even other House and Senate members. He suggested that House conferees take a recess from the meeting and convene their own Appropriations Committee hearing if they want to hear from witnesses. 

Dollar responded that the inclusion of witnesses would not violate the conference committee rules the House and Senate had agreed to because the rules didn't specifically address that issue.

"We are controlling our hour," said Dollar, calling Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison as the first witness.

"Well, I think this meeting's adjourned," Brown said angrily, prompting Senate conferees to pick up their materials and walk out of the room.

The Senate has proposed giving teachers an 11 percent raise but would cut funding for more than 7,000 teaching assistants statewide to pay for it. The House and Gov. Pat McCrory have called for the smaller increase as part of a long-term system to improve teacher salaries.

Morrison said Charlotte would lose 817 teaching assistants under the Senate plan and would have to cut $6 million to $7 million from its budget.

Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Frank Till and Dare County Schools Superintendent Sue Burgess also told House members of the importance of teaching assistants.

House Speaker Thom Tillis asked Till if he would prefer an 11 percent raise for teachers, "with everything that goes along with it," or a 5 percent raise. Till responded that he would prefer raises "without the draconian cuts," saying that the quality of classroom instruction in early grades is based on the team approach to teaching.

Burgess said assistants allow teachers to provide more individualized instruction and more time with students.


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  • Daniel Young Jul 10, 2014
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    Legal Pot Coming Soon? 50-State Marijuana Law Roundup.

  • Daniel Young Jul 10, 2014
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    The NC Legislature need to put Pot Legalization on the voting ballot to see how things have changed for the benefit of this state.

  • Paul Maxwell Jul 10, 2014
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    View quoted thread

    We already have term limits...it's called election day.

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 9, 2014

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    Yeah, some obviously think they do.

    But then I'm trying to remember a time when our government in this state DID call in experts that they even listened to and implemented any of their suggestions once given.

    This state just pushes forward with whatever private agenda the politicians at the top have, with no regard to the needs/wants/desires of the constituency and no regard to suggestions by experts.

    It completely confuses and astounds me as it occurs time and time again, with voters standing in line to re-elect those doing it time and time again.

    Are the majority of voters in this state/country really that stupid or lazy?

    Seems it might be so!!! I dunno.

  • ogawar66 Jul 9, 2014

    I am so ashamed of the things going on in our legislature I can hardly stand it. Unbelievable. I would like to think that our elected officials would listen to some experts before deciding any kind of legislature. Do they really think they know it all?

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 9, 2014

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    Agreed, however, I also know that you cannot control governmental spending until you control population, because increases in population require an increase in governmental services (police, firefighters, EMT, teachers, etc. etc. etc.).

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 9, 2014

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    Not just the GOP - ALL/ANY politician that doesn't get their way does the same thing, regardless of party affiliation.

    And those voting straight ticket every single election, who often vote without even thinking to re-elect the same troublemakers, even law breakers, over and over again, are leading this entire country to ruin.

  • Richard Eskridge Jul 9, 2014
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    Can't they just leave the budget alone? I thought it was a bi-annual budget anyway. Why is it so important to give teachers a meaningless five percent raise anyhow? Five percent. Really? And with that five percent raise, we are gonna cut other programs and whatnot even further. That five percent gonna help teachers buy more school supplies as the state does not pay for much of those either? If I were a public school teacher I would find a job in any state surrounding NC as all of 'em pay better.

  • elkerster Jul 9, 2014

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    Both Parties- it was the republicans that brought in the so called "experts"

  • "Screen Name-8/20" Jul 9, 2014

    "A day of scheduled budget negotiations got off to a rocky start Wednesday morning after House leaders insisted on hearing from outside experts on education spending."

    Why would that alone cause some to walk out of the meeting???

    Is that not a valid suggestion, since few (if any) in this state seem to be able to determine it themselves???