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Critics Evaluate Winners, Losers Of House Budget Plan

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State employees have gone two years without a pay raise and will not get one in the latest version of the House budget, but perks like an additional 10 vacation days and early retirement options should ease the pain.

Political consultant Brad Crone said some of the biggest winners with the House budget are North Carolina schoolchildren and Gov. Mike Easley More at Four program, which was expanded by $28 million.

"They are going to put the resources in classroom teachers, in school technology and in the framework to help at-risk children," he said.

Critics said Easley's lobbyists had to hustle to reverse an earlier vote that had temporarily sunk the More at Four expansion.

"It took the actions of former Supreme Court judge turned bouncer Franklin Freeman to block the doors, but it shows you how important that program is for the governor," said Don Carrington of the John Locke Foundation.

Among the losers of the House budget were many of the health programs, which were cut to free up money for the More at Four program.

"The biggest losers are people who can't help themselves, can't protect themselves, don't have a strong lobby in the General Assembly -- the mentally ill, the disabled and the poor people," Crone said.

The University of North Carolina system took a number of hits, including the loss of supplemental funding for the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Lawmakers also scrapped money for the required reading program on Islam at UNC.

North Carolina State also took a hit as legislative approval would be required for building a hotel and golf course project at Centennial Campus. The budget will be up for full House debate Monday.