State News

Senate gives $19B budget tentative OK

Posted May 19, 2010 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2010 7:06 p.m. EDT

— The state Senate gave tentative approval Wednesday to a $19 billion plan to run North Carolina state government for the coming year that limits public education cuts at the expense of health care and other programs.

The chamber voted 32-17 in favor of a plan that closes a projected $788 million deficit. The Senate's final vote will come on Thursday.

During the nearly two-hour debate, Democratic leaders said the budget plan makes painful decisions but will keep North Carolina on the path to economic recovery. Republicans countered that spending actually increases $450 million over 2009-10 and won't do much to create jobs.

"This budget makes the long-term fiscal problems facing the state worse," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said.

Republican senators also maintained that the budget proposal understates spending by omitting about $1.6 billion that will be covered by federal economic stimulus funds.

"You're going to think this is Christmastime compared to what we're going to be facing (next year) because we put our heads in the sand," said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg.

Sen. Daniel Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, fired back that North Carolina's growing population necessitates more spending, but he noted that per capita spending under the Senate's proposal would go down by 3.5 percent.

"Would you have wanted to increase class size (for) K-12? Would you have wanted to eliminate need-based financial aid?" Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, asked his Republican colleagues.

Senators also debated the tax credits for small businesses that are included in the budget proposal.

Rucho called them "a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery."

"There's not one thing in this budget that's going to allow me to hire one more person back," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

Democrats said it's hard to have a perfect budget in a struggling economy.

"What we've done, I think, with this budget is keep the dream alive," Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt said.

Once the Senate approves its budget, the House will take its turn at crafting a spending plan for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which starts in July.

Critics have blasted the Senate leadership for rushing its budget through without much debate, so the House Appropriations Committee has scheduled a public hearing for next Monday to receive comments about the state budget.

The hearing will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at the McKimmon Center on the North Carolina State University campus. Bladen Community College in Dublin, Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte and Southwestern Community College in Sylva will host interactive broadcasts of the hearing, which also will be streamed online.