State News

Easley pans House budget proposal

Gov. Mike Easley said he's concerned that the House's proposed spending plan doesn't give enough to education programs.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley says Tuesday that he's perplexed by House Democrats who rolled out a budget that he says retreats on education, particularly on teacher pay.

"It's not only unacceptable, it's puzzling to me how they can be so far off the mark," Easley said during a news conference.

The $21.5 billion budget cleared the House Finance Committee on Tuesday morning and passed the Appropriations Committee in the afternoon. The full House was expected to debate and vote on the budget Wednesday and Thursday before sending the proposal to the Senate.

House Democrats said they didn't have enough money to provide 7 percent raises for teachers, which Easley wanted. Instead, they gave 3 percent raises.

"We think we've done the best with what we have. The fight is not over yet," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham. "We're doing the best with what we've got. Nobody's in a frame of mind to raise any taxes or anything like that."

Easley, who isn't running for re-election, proposed increasing cigarette taxes to pay for teacher raises and raising the tax on alcohol and beer to generate more money for mental health programs.

Not providing a 7 percent raise to push the average teacher's salary in North Carolina to the national average breaks a promise to educators statewide, he said.

"Just because you run up on a stump economically, you can't short the teachers. An economic shortfall can't be an education shortfall," he said.

Other state employees would receive a 2.75 percent raise or $1,100 under the House budget proposal or a 1.5 percent raise and a $1,000 bonus under Easley's spending plan. Erica Baldwin, a spokeswoman for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said government workers aren't thrilled with either proposal.

"The cost of everything is rising and its just not keeping pace with inflation and the market rate," Baldwin said.

Easley also told reporters that he's concerned about how the proposed spending plan doesn't give enough to the More at Four program. More money also is needed for expected enrollment increases at University of North Carolina campuses, he said.

Mental health funding was another point of contention between the two budget plans. Easley wanted to cut $31 million from the current spending plan – to be replaced by other programs – while the House proposal outlines $86 million in savings.


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