Senate unveils proposed spending plan

The Senate's $20.6 billion budget pursues many of the education policy changes lawmakers have pursued throughout the spring. It would also trim services for those who receive Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

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Mark Binker
Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — Senate leaders released a $20.6 billion budget Sunday night that would put in place many policy proposals the chamber's leaders have pushed throughout the session, including a plan to end career status for teachers. 

The Senate spends slightly less than Gov. Pat McCrory's plan, setting aside more than $217 million to pay for an anticipated tax reform effort.

“This budget stands in sharp contrast to the failed attempts of previous leaders to tax, spend and borrow their way to prosperity," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a news release Sunday night. The release outlined what Senators see as the highlights of their plan.

For example, Senate leaders say their $20.6 billion budget proposal "fully funds enrollment growth in K-12, community colleges and the university system." However, tables provided with the news release and in the budget documents themselves show overall education spending dropping when compared with the current year.

The Senate release included a table comparing the top-line numbers of the Senate budget with Gov. Pat McCrory's budget. After 10 p.m., the legislature posted the budget bill and associated money report on its website.
The Senate budget does include some priorities outlined by McCrory this spring. For example, the Senate follows McCrory's lead on giving the governor and his Information Systems Director oversight over new computer systems bought by state agencies. Also, the Senate would eliminate public "check off" funds that currently go to political parties.
However, the Senate appears to have ignored other McCrory requests, such as paying for drug treatment courts and funding compensation for victims of the state's eugenics program.

Senate plan cuts Medicaid 

Among the biggest moves in the state budget are planned adjustments to Medicaid, the state-sponsored health insurance program for the poor and disabled. The program has been a thorn in the side of budget-writers, with annual surprise cost overruns. 

While the budget proposal adds money to Medicaid overall to accommodate growth in the program, it also proposes some major cuts in program services to control costs.

Berger's news release describes Medicaid as "a runaway federal entitlement program that is diverting funds away from priorities like education, transportation and our judicial system." His chamber's budget paves the way for an effort to privatize the state program, something the governor is already studying. 

The Senate budget moves slightly increase state money for Community Care of North Carolina, the state's nationally acclaimed Medicaid management program. Top McCrory administration officials have said they expect CCNC to be part of the set of private managed care entities that take over care for the patients . 

Among the other proposed changes the Senate budget would make to Medicaid and health services are: 

  • cuts covered doctor visits on Medicaid from 22 to 10 per year, except for the chronically ill
  • raises co-pays for services
  • cuts private nursing services by $5 million
  • cuts mental health drugs by $5 million
  • cuts aids drug assistance by 25 percent, or $2 million. The budget also contains a provisions that would direct the state prisons to seek to use AIDS Drug Assistance Program funding to pay for HIV drugs for those in the state prison system. 
  • closes the state's three alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers, saving $37 million. In turn, the budget sets aside $10 million to pay for drug treatment services provided through regional mental health care agencies.

Also in the Health and Human Services arena, the Senate budget includes a controversial provision that would require applicants for certain welfare programs to undergo drug testing. 

In contrast to McCrory's proposal to add seats to NC Pre-K, the Senate budget would reduce Pre-K seats but add more funding for subsidized child care.

Education and other policy moves

The Senate budget also includes most aspects of the Senate's education reform plan that Berger rolled out earlier this year.

Those changes include removing career status, what some call tenure, for teachers in the public school system. Rather, teachers would be placed on contracts ranging from one to three years. 

Senate budget-writers also included a provision that would remove class-size caps in elementary school grades.

Senate leaders also want to move the State Bureau of Investigation from the Attorney General's Office to the state Department of Public Safety. Attorney General Roy Cooper opposes the move.

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