State News

Senate Republicans wonder what taxes are in budget plan

Posted April 7, 2009 2:49 p.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2009 7:44 p.m. EDT

State budget

— Senate Republicans complained Tuesday that the $20 billion budget proposal rolled out Monday by the Democratic majority was crafted in secret and that the vote on the package is being rushed.

Budget-writers unveiled their two-year spending plan Monday, noting that it was more than $900 million less than the proposal Gov. Beverly Perdue came up with three weeks ago. The Senate proposal would add two students to the average public school classroom, saving the state $320 million, and would lay off 711 state workers and keep another 900 positions vacant.

Perdue, a former teacher, is opposed to increasing class sizes, and her plan called for eliminating 1,033 positions, some of which are vacant.

One thing not spelled out in the Senate proposal is the source of $580 million in expected new revenue. GOP officials balked at that Tuesday, saying they didn't want to vote on a budget without knowing what new taxes were being considered.

"It's just on the line item as tax adjustments. Well, that can be just about anything," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said.

The Democratic leadership insisted the budget vote is on the big picture. The question of how to generate additional tax revenue is done by a different committee, they said.

"It is the finance team. They're not done with their work yet," said Sen. A.B. Swindell, D-Nash, co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Usually, yes, you do have the two offered together, but there's no reason why you can't move the appropriations bill."

That approach doesn't sit well with Berger, R-Rockingham, and his Republican colleagues.

"'Trust me. It'll be OK. Don't worry about it. Don't look behind that curtain. You don't need to be worried about that.' Those are the kind of words you hear from somebody who is trying to hide something," he said.

Democrats said they aren't hiding anything. Once the tax plan is unveiled, senators will vote again, and Swindell said the overall budget would return back to square one if that vote failed.

"If you're not for the finance package when that comes, you vote against it," he said. "There's a lot of time for a lot to change. That's why it'll take a couple months to get it done and worked out."

Berger also complained that the proposal was headed for a floor vote on Wednesday. That gives most senators less than two days to review the 337-page bill and amendments, and he called for delaying the vote until next week.

As the Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed the spending plan Tuesday, Sen. Vernon Malone, D-Wake, said he doesn't apologize for the education spending reductions that had to be made.

The plan also freezes the rate paid by doctors and hospitals to see Medicaid patients and reduces by nearly half funds to help patients so they can live at home.