Just last week, Senate Republicans were touting an "education reform" initiative that would cut 13,000 teachers' assistants in grades 1-3, an expense GOP budget writers say hasn't been proven to improve student performance. The cut, which would save the state more than $390 million, would be offset by funding for 1,100 new K-3 teachers to reduce class sizes - a move Republicans say will improve education at a much lower cost.
But as early as Friday afternoon, rumors started swirling that Republican leaders were reconsidering that swap after a pretty straightforward veto warning from Gov. Perdue.
Under the new deal, Senate GOP leaders told WRAL today, the Senate would trade its income tax cut – one-quarter percent for each bracket – to keep teachers' assistants in kindergarten and 1st-grade classrooms (and some 2nd-grade classrooms) at a cost of between $260 and $290 million. At least half the cost would be funded from the tax-cut rollback. The rest would come from the rainy day fund, repairs and renovations, and what little the Senate left unspent on its bottom line.
That theory seemed to be bolstered by this afternoon's announcement that, instead of voting on the budget tomorrow, Senate leaders would send the budget bill back to Appropriations Tuesday.
Under the Senate's budget rules, any changes made on the floor have to be revenue-neutral – that is, they wouldn't change the bottom line for any given budget area. Rolling back the tax cut and adding to the budget's bottom line would violate that rule, so that would have to happen in committee.
Watch our 6:00 pm discussion of it at right.
Thirty minutes later, just when we thought we'd figured it out, the Senate Appropriations committee corrected its agenda. The budget bill is no longer on it. It's just "TBA."
What happens to the Senate budget Tuesday is anyone's guess at this point. This kind of legislative uncertainty at this point in the budget-writing process is unusual. But then, so is the situation they're faced with: a governor of the opposing party who's armed with a veto stamp and sufficient legislative support to make it stick.
We'll keep you updated here Tuesday, and we'll try to bring you the Senate Appropriations meeting live at WRAL.com at 1:00 pm – assuming it actually happens, of course.