House Republicans' spending plan mostly intact
RALEIGH - The North Carolina government spending plan House Republicans have drawn up for next year cleared their chamber's two most important committees largely intact on Wednesday.
The House finance and appropriations panels recommended the $21.1 billion budget proposal after nearly eight hours of debate and voting on more than 60 amendments.
The budget committee approved changes that located money to extend a scholarship program for aspiring teachers that otherwise headed for dissolution and restored money to keep family courts operating in about two dozen counties. A tax credit to fix up historic properties set to expire at the end of the year was revived and retooled in the plan.
The largest adjustments made by the House GOP leaders to the second year of the two-year state budget approved last summer remained in place. They include an average 5 percent pay raise for public school teachers. The raise is to be paid for mostly by a predicted $106 million increase in state lottery revenues, sustained by increased lottery advertising.
House budget-writers say their method is better than the teacher pay proposal offered by Senate Republicans in their budget version two weeks ago.
The Senate's pay raises exceeded 11 percent on average but were paid for in part by other public education cuts, particularly by slashing funds to hire teacher assistants nearly in half. Under the Senate plan, veteran teachers would not get the large raises unless they agreed to give up their job protections. The House plan doesn't require that.
"We keep people in jobs, we keep people in their homes and the services that they need and we give the teachers a significant pay raise," said Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "I think we've got a good budget."
The House also declined to follow the Senate on scaling back the Medicaid rolls by up to 15,000 people or rejecting Gov. Pat McCrory's Medicaid overhaul proposal.
The full House planned to debate and to hold two required votes Thursday and Friday. Negotiations will begin in earnest next week between the two chambers to work out a final plan to give McCrory before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
"Clearly there are some very, very, distinct differences between the two in education and" health care, Holloway said.
The House Appropriations Committee defeated an amendment from Rep. Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, that would have eliminated a provision to move the State Bureau of Investigation from the oversight of Attorney General Roy Cooper to a Cabinet-level agency within the McCrory administration. The Senate budget also includes the transfer, which is laced with political implications because Cooper, a Democrat, is planning a run for governor in 2016.
Stevens and some colleagues from both parties said they were concerned the SBI could lose the independence needed for an investigative agency that in part examines potential public corruption. "I still have not heard any good reason to support this," said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.
But others defending the transfer said worries about politicizing the agency were unfounded and that the change would result in cost savings and better coordination with other law enforcement agencies. "I'm in favor of consolidating departments when and where possible," Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston, said before the amendment 37-50.
House Democrats still voted against the full budget in the two committees. They argue GOP decisions last year to cut taxes deeply have dried up revenues for needed services. Still, they're glad the House didn't follow the Senate in several areas.
"The House budget is a whole lot better than the Senate budget, but the House budget does have some holes in it," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.