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Tillis, House leaders outline budget differences with Senate

Posted July 11

House Speaker Thom Tillis, members of his staff and senior budget writers listen as Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, briefs reporters on differences between the House and Senate budgets on Friday, July 11, 2014.

— After a week that featured a veto threat from the governor, the distribution of lumps of coal and the spectacle of Senate budget negotiators walking out on their House colleagues, it maybe should not have come as a surprise that House leaders canceled their open budget negotiating session scheduled for Friday morning. 

After all, the Senate's top budget writers said they were going home for the weekend and not show up. 

Instead, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Budget Chairman Nelson Dollar and other senior budget writers made their case to reporters on Friday morning, laying out what they saw as the major differences between the two legislative chambers.

They also spoke about the potential of going home without a new budget agreement. While that wouldn't force a government shutdown – lawmakers passed a two year budget in 2013 that will continue to fund government operations through June 30, 2015 – it would go back on promises to raise teacher salaries made by Gov. Pat McCrory as well as House and Senate leaders. 

"The promise that we made in February was to provide pay raises for our starting teachers, minimally. We have the budget to do that," Tillis said Friday. "I think we're missing an opportunity to even go further if we don't come to compromise, but I think we absolutely must do that (raise teacher salaries), and I think it's absolutely irresponsible of any member who shared in support of that promise that we made in February to leave Raleigh without having fulfilled that promise." 

The House, Senate and governor all have put forward plans that raise teacher salaries. But while McCrory and the House have suggested teacher pay raises of roughly 5 or 6 percent, Senate leaders have insisted on pushing for an 11 percent raise.

"We have said all along that teacher raises are the No. 1 priority of the Senate. We continue to have that as our No. 1 priority, and what we intend to do is continue to push for the most robust teacher raise we can," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Thursday. 

But House leaders say that, in pushing for an 11 percent teacher raise, senators are pushing for a budget that would force drastic cuts to the state's Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled, as well as cuts to funding for teaching assistants in second- and third-grade classrooms throughout the state. Senators have argued that research shows teaching assistants do not boost reading achievement in elementary school students. 

House leaders have fought back, saying the Medicaid cuts, even if agreed to, would have to be approved by the federal government, which very well may reject such a drastic change to the state's entitlement programs. Tillis, Dollar and other budget writers point to testimony from principals, teachers and school superintendents who say teacher assistants are critical in managing elementary school classrooms. As well, some funding that lawmakers designate for teaching assistants actually goes toward paying teachers.

"Reductions can be productive. You can free up money through reductions," said Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, one of the chairmen of the House budget committee. "But we're at the point now where these reductions are going to be destructive."

Lawmakers have sent the Senate a separate bill that would just do teacher raises. But Senators rejected that measure out of hand, refusing to even accept the measure in their clerk's office, much less give it a hearing. At the time, Berger, R-Rockingham, and other senior senators said the bill would throw the budget out of balance. Dollar insisted Friday that the teacher raises could be done outside other cuts.

"The funds are there and are available," Dollar, R-Wake, said of the 5 percent pay raise proposal. 

There is no hard and fast deadline for lawmakers to adjourn their even-year "short" legislative sessions, although early hopes were to leave town before July 4. The lingering budget debate could have political consequences as well. Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, is a candidate for U.S. Senate, and the ongoing legislative session is keep him from being on the campaign trail full time.

Asked if his desire to go campaign could be influencing budget negotiations, perhaps allowing his Senate colleagues to apply extra pressure to get their way, Tillis said the state budget was "priority No. 1."

The campaign, he said, "has virtually no impact on anything we're doing here."

7 Comments

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  • jackjones2nc Jul 14, 10:11 a.m.

    Unfortunately all this drama is most likely a distraction to draw attention off another truly horrible breach of public trust. The Republican-controlled NCGA has mislead us too many times.

  • Mustange Jul 12, 11:57 a.m.

    What happen to bringing the new teachers 7 years or less pay up and then giving the older teachers a pay raise. The problem is the teachers with 7 years or less are leaving North Carolina in droves. They come out of college with college debt and starting pay in North Carolina for a teacher is a joke. Fixing teacher pay is not a one time fix all pill you swallow but you got to find a way to pay these new teachers if you want thim to stay here or your going to lose at both ends new teachers leaving older ones retire. And state workers in general they just dont seem to catch a break they are always stuck in the middle and have to get whats left over if there is any. But you know all this can be fixed if these guys would stop playing politics and just sit down like the profesionals their suppose to be and make it happen.

  • blessedx6 Jul 11, 6:47 p.m.

    Perhaps the organizations advocating for the elderly and disabled who will lose assistance in the Senate plan need to follow the extremists against fracking with ads of their own - showing grandmothers and grandfathers in their 90's and the most significantly disabled being pushed out in the streets by sheriffs due to lost funds. Although funding cuts will not show that tragic results, it is very significant and will result in increased spending in other areas of Medicaid. Teachers do need to be paid adequately; however state employees, many in positions requiring a masters degree for entry level, are suffering too, with pay less than teachers entry level, and loss of the best can hurt agencies' functioning. But what is found those who are the most dedicated find a way... Balance the budget, guys, with common sense - what is the waste in business development (just how much does go to the multi-million $ filming industry) and other pet projects???

  • OleNCNative Jul 11, 3:02 p.m.

    Many people look at our state government and say that they are acting like children. But, I... View More

    — Posted by BigBangTheorist

    great insight.

  • lec02572 Jul 11, 2:15 p.m.

    Teachers are leaving by the dozens from this state. No longer are the days when teachers will just stay because their husbands have jobs that pay the bills. Teachers are overwhelmed in the classrooms now with TA's and your feel they are not needed. Senate members you don't have a clue. Soon all you will have are new teachers and those so close to retirement that they won't leave.

  • 42 Jul 11, 1:57 p.m.

    "I think that all this posturing is just an act. " BigBangTheorist

    I Agree 100%

  • BigBangTheorist Jul 11, 1:48 p.m.

    Many people look at our state government and say that they are acting like children. But, I submit this scenario: I think that all this posturing is just an act. In 2013, none of these people had any problem cutting teachers' benefits, tenure, etc. NOW, they want to try and look good by throwing the teachers a bone. The Senate, House and Governor all pretend to be fighting one another on this issue. Then, Thom Tillis swoops in and saves the day, by arbitrating a compromise. This is all to try and make Tillis look good, and possibly beat Kay Hagan. They are all on the same side folks. What's to stop them from trading political favors amongst themselves. Maybe, the payback will be Berger running for the Senate when Burr's seat is up for grabs. Mark my words. Let's sit back and watch this show, and see how it all plays out. It might be an eye-opener.