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State Budget Problems Worry Universities, State Employees

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RALEIGH — State budget talks have gone on for weeks. Lawmakers just cannot seem to agree on a resolution. But they are not the only ones feeling the pain.

The schools cannot hire extra teachers. Teachers worry whether they will get the benefits promised them. And of course, it is all tied into the state budget, a budget that is more than a month overdue. And at universities and community colleges, tuition rates are part of an educated guess game

Not having a state budget on the books is trickling all the way down to freshmen at UNC and N.C. State. In fact, every student in the UNC system is in for some sticker shock this fall, since the schools can only guess at how much to raise tuition. This semester, it is $488.

"And if we guessed wrong, we will quickly make adjustments in the accounts," said Debbie Griffith of N.C. State News Services.

Shirley Bell is a laboratory evaluator for the Department of Public Health. Not having a budget is holding up her - and hundreds of thousands of other state employees pay raises and other benefits. But the delay affects more than just wallets.

Dana Cope of the State Employees Association says the long wait for a final budget is starting to take a toll among state employee.

"The jobs are at stake, the pay raise is at stake, but more importantly it is a huge economic impact for all of North Carolina. State employees are very frustrated and anxious. You have state employees in the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, for instance, who aren't sure they will have a job in the months to come. There is a proposal in the legislature right now to abolish that entire agency. Likewise in the Department of Health and Human Services," said Cope.

House Speaker Jim Black says he has the votes to pass a tax increase and believes the budget will be settled in two weeks.