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N.C. House, Senate Approve $14 Billion Budget

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RALEIGH — After much debate and deep thought, the state House and Senate passed a $14 billion budget spending plan Friday. The budget was approved by a 100-10 vote in the House and a 45-3 vote in the Senate.

A part of the multimillion dollar plan fully funds Governor Jim Hunt'sSmart Start program. The plan is beneficial in another way to teachers.

"I fulfilled my promise made back in 1996 that we carry teacher pay to the national average at the same time that we're raising standards for our teachers and principals," Hunt says.

A plan to reform the state's mental health system will receive some money. However, a program that makes sure the mentally disabled are matched with the proper facility did not make the final budget.

"We've done this without examining what the impact will be on those individuals and where they'll go once these services are taken away from them," says public interest attorney Sorien Schmidt. "It's very upsetting to see this."

The state's waterways rank among the budget winners. The state will increase funding for the Clean Water Trust Fund to $100 million a year.

"The purity of water and the supply of water, I think, are both exceedingly important," says Cary resident Paul Stone.

State employees will receive a four percent pay raise. However, when theymarched to the legislature this spring, they were shooting for more money.

"They compromised somewhere in the middle so we consider it a limited victory," says Dana Cope, state employees' associate executive director. "At least, it's more than three percent which state employees have got over the past eight or so years."

Senator John Kerr, D-Wayne, says in addition to the raise, lawmakers laid the groundwork to improve state employees' health plan.

"Next year, we're looking at a $300 million hit in that plan so we started in part of the Senate package and the House agreed to put aside some money next year to protect the state health plan," Kerr says.

The General Assembly also approved a proposal that would give motoriststwo points on their drivers' licensefor not buckling up their children as well. They also passed a plan that would apply a sales tax for purchasing items online.

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Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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