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As Legislature Opens, Budget Problems Loom

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RALEIGH — State lawmakers returned to Raleigh Wednesday, facing a $500 million budget deficit. Legislators are facing many difficult choices as they get back to work.

State spending affects everything from the number of clerks behind the counter at state offices to the number of troopers on the highway. This year's budget shortfall may put a period on some of the state's plans.

State employees are already feeling the pinch. A hiring freeze has been coupled with limits on travel and meal expenditures to save money.

With program cuts or tax raises possible to make up the budget deficit, lawmakers may also find it hard to hard to come through on campaign promises.

For instance, a promise to cut class sizes in the state's public schools would mean hiring more teachers. Many lawmakers also want to raise teacher pay to the national average.

"You'll have to say no," says Sen. Marc Basnight (D-Manteo). "There's no way you'll be able to fulfill the requests that come forward. You couldn't do it before, and the budget makes it more difficult now."

As legislators wrestle with the problem, they wait for early May, when new numbers from the Dept. of Revenue will tell them how much money the state has brought in. Then, they will know if being in the red is a short-term or long-term prospect.


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