Local Politics

Lawmakers give details of delayed state budget

Posted August 3, 2009 6:05 p.m. EDT
Updated August 4, 2009 12:24 p.m. EDT

State budget

— North Carolina legislators went through a run-down Monday of the two-year state budget hashed out after weeks of negotiations but might have to wait longer for their own copies.

Legislative budget writers on Monday met to review details of the nearly 300-page spending plan and its 200 pages of supplemental notes.

Negotiators were making sure the language matches the details they agreed to on Friday. Other lawmakers were expected to receive their copies of the budget bill by early Tuesday.

"It has been hard work, seven months of solid work and we think we've got a pretty good budget in spite of the economic times,” said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.

The bill is expected to go up for its two required votes as early as Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The bottom line is you really don't have time to do it justice," Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said. "One day for a 300-page document with all the detail – it's virtually impossible. It's always a rush job. The fact that we're not included in the process is why it's a rush job for us."

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said he believes the current system works fine and that more than 90 percent of legislators already know how they plan to vote.

"For those that want to be diligent, you can do your homework and figure it out in a day, but personally, I have no problem with a longer period," he said. "The end result is going to be pretty much the same."

Among changes made Monday in the nearly $19 billion budget is a measure that would protect class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Districts will have flexibility in reducing spending, but the budget directs schools to preserve the classroom as much as possible in grades 4 through 12.

"They (school district officials) know a whole lot more on how to manage their affairs than do we, and so we tried to make sure that they have the authority to move things around,” said Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland.

On Friday's agreement, budget writers had protected class sizes in grades up to sixth.

"If you've got to add two students to a high school class, it's less harmful than adding two students in K through 3," Blue said.

Earlier House and Senate proposals sought to save more than $300 million annually by eliminating funding for 6,000 teacher positions. That idea was replaced with a deal giving schools flexibility to use textbook or other money to hire as many teachers as possible.

"People are going to be hurt by what we've had to do because of cuts, but we didn't have any other choice,” Michaux said.

When Gov. Bev Perdue laid out her budget priorities, she asked lawmakers to find new revenue sources to lessen the severity of budget cuts in the public schools.

"While sacrifices will be made, I still believe the General Assembly is moving toward consensus on my budget priorities and a budget agreement is within sight," Perdue said.

The agreement also includes a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, raising it to 7.75 cents in most counties.

It would impose a 2 to 3 percent surcharge on the income tax liability owed by individuals with a state taxable income of $60,000 or more and couples with a state taxable income of $100,000 or more.

Consumers would also pay higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol, while the state would claim a bigger share of alcohol taxes, holding onto some money previously distributed to municipalities.