State budget draws ire of Tri-County representatives

Jun. 14, 2014 @ 12:25 PM

Funding for North Carolina public school teachers’ raises is the hot-button issue of this summer’s state budget talks.

And Rep. Nathan Baskerville of Henderson and state Sen. Angela Bryant, Democrats who represent the majority of The Dispatch’s readership area, don’t like the target of who foots the bill for the badly needed increases.

The House approved a $21 billion budget Friday morning that allots more than $100 million of North Carolina Education Lottery revenue to fund a 5 percent teacher pay increase.

Baskerville, who voted against the budget, said such funding was a huge risk.

“We are gambling on gambling,” he said.

In addition to $220 million already set aside to pay for teacher salaries, the House proposed doubling its advertising budget for the lottery with hopes it will generate $105 million in revenues to accommodate the raises.

The House has a projected teacher raise cost at about $178 million.

North Carolina Education Lottery executive director Alice Garland told The Associated Press that obtaining the needed $105 million would require an additional $425 million in sales above what is projected.

“That is the very top of the forecast,” Baskerville said. “What happens when they don’t get that much money? Where are the raises going to come from then?”

Baskerville said the original purpose of the lottery was to supplement teacher initiatives, not supplant educational revenue sources.

He said he offered amendment after amendment to give teachers more money without the risk.

“We proposed a true pay raise that was funded through traditional sources through the general fund,” Baskerville said.

He and Bryant, from Rocky Mount, said the state created a big hole in funding when it gave $300 million in tax breaks to the richest 20,000 in North Carolina.

“Now they are really taxing poor people through the lottery,” Bryant said.

She said the tax break was not sustainable for the state’s basics needs in areas such as health care, schools and the environment.

“Some improvements can’t be made now because you can’t print money,” she said.

Both legislative bodies will join in conference Monday, where the Senate will either concur or reject the House’s budget.

Bryant said she would most likely vote not to concur.

“There are some things that have to be looked over so that we can decide between the better of the two evils,” she said.

Bryant said she did see some overwhelming improvements to the House’s budget that made it better than the Senate’s.

She said she was glad to see teacher employment rights upheld and the repeal of the proposed strip of tenure.

Aside from teacher pay, she said she appreciates the budget does not include Medicaid cuts for elders and hospitals.

Baskerville said he and his colleagues fought hard during the day-long budget work sessions Thursday and Friday to make sure the 3 percent reduction in Medicaid reimbursement rates was eliminated from the budget.

“I got a lot of feedback from our local nursing facilities about how devastating that would be,” Baskerville said.

Both Baskerville and Bryant said they were pleased with the small victories to continue the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, an economic incentive that encourages private investment for the rehabilitation and upkeep of historical landmarks.

“This will benefit our area where we have a lot of historical buildings,” Baskerville said. “We need to have a vehicle where those properties can rehab.”

Baskerville said he did not support the State Bureau of Investigation transfer from the attorney general’s office to the Department of Public Safety.

“That could lead us into a situation where the FBI is investigating their own bosses,” Bryant said. “This will decrease the people’s trust in our ability to fight corruption.”

Bryant said she will be looking for additional resolutions Monday that address funding cuts to financial aid and college institutions and child care subsidy.

She said she hopes they can pull some provisions from the House’s budget.

Baskerville said he expected very little to come from both because funding was short across the board.

“The Senate comes out with the budget that is short-sighted,” Baskerville said. “Then the House comes out with the budget that is not as short-sighted. The Senate budget is terrible and the House budget is terrible. Just because one is better doesn’t mean it’s good enough.”

Bryant said a conference committee will be nominated Monday at budget deliberation. They will make the final decisions of what the budget will include. Representatives will be able to lobby their key issues at that time.

Contact the writer at dhairston@hendersondispatch.com.