State News

Teachers lobby for money as Perdue calls for new highway fund

Posted May 24, 2010 4:03 a.m. EDT
Updated May 24, 2010 7:20 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Beverly Perdue pushed Monday for increased funding for state highway projects, but North Carolina education leaders said public schools should be first in line for more money.

Perdue's budget proposal called for cutting $314.8 million in public school spending during the 2010-11 school year to help close a $788 million deficit. The Senate last week approved a budget that would cut K-12 spending by $219.3 million.

Education officials said school districts cannot absorb more cuts without laying off personnel.

"We need our education leaders in our schools, not in our unemployment lines," said Sheri Strickland, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said North Carolina schools "face a cliff" in funding when budget cuts are combined with the loss of federal economic stimulus funds next year.

"Pardon our potholes in our roads, but our first priority is funding our schools," Atkinson said. "We have to live with our potholes until we have better times."

Perdue, however, was backing more funding for road projects Monday . She joined several mayors and state Board of Transportation members at a news conference to urge lawmakers to approve the North Carolina Mobility Fund, which she proposed in her budget last month.

The effort would raise money in part from a 25 percent increase in the cost of vehicle registrations and higher taxes on car sales to fund projects that would ease congestion statewide but are hard to finance under the current road-funding formula. New Interstate 85 bridges over the Yadkin River would be one such project, she said.

"Transportation is really critical," the governor said, noting the state's economy relies on free-moving traffic.

The Senate didn't put the Mobility Fund idea in its budget proposal, but Perdue said she was hopeful it would be considered during this year's session.

"Nothing is over until it's over. That's one of the good things and one of the bad things about the legislative process here in North Carolina and in Washington," she said.