RALEIGH — The state House of Representatives approved the final version of its $21-billion budget Friday, but reconciling the House and Senate budgets could take the N.C. General Assembly several more weeks.
“We have published our version of the budget and the Senate has passed its budget,” said Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond. “Sometime next week, a committee will pull what we hope is the best of both versions and — although this process has in the past lasted into the fall — I am hopeful we will pass a budget in the next two to three weeks.”
The House and Senate budgets differ on key issues, such as compensation for North Carolina teachers who have not received a raise in the past five years.
“I think the House budget is light-years better than the Senate’s,” Goodman said. “The Senate did provide a bigger raise for teachers than the House, however, they require teachers to give up tenure to get the raise, eliminate about 4,000 jobs in second- and third-grade teacher assistants and kick a lot of people off Medicaid rolls to help fund that raise.”
In the House version of the budget, all teachers would receive an average 5 percent raise without any job cuts.
“The House version is not requiring teachers to give up career status and did not take off elderly or disabled from those rolls,” Goodman said. “And we restored the teaching fellows program and restored extra pay for teachers with master’s degrees.”
Some criticism of the House budget has centered on its proposed source of funding for the teachers’ raises. Goodman said the plan is to double the N.C. Education Lottery’s advertising budget, which is projected to generate an additional $100 million in lottery revenue to cover the cost of the raises.
“I’m not sure that’s the best way to budget,” Goodman said. “I probably would have done something a little different there, but we do have alternate plans for funding those raises even if the lottery doesn’t earn the projected amount.”
Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Hoke, had harsher criticism for the lottery advertising plan, which he called “playing politics with our teachers’ livelihoods.”
“Our children and educators deserve a long-term and substantive solution to this very real problem,” Pierce said in a statement. “Instead, the GOP in the state legislature continues to rely on thinly veiled accounting gimmicks while pushing our state further in the wrong direction. It’s time that lawmakers put the citizens of North Carolina ahead of election-year politics and give our hardworking and dedicated teachers a real pay raise that is substantial and fiscally secure.”
Pierce also is concerned that both the House and Senate proposed budgets would transfer control of the State Bureau of Investigation from the attorney general’s office to the N.C. Department of Public Safety. The shift is seen as a Republican swipe against Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has said he’ll challenge Gov. Pat McCrory in the 2016 gubernatorial race.
The state public safety secretary, a member of McCrory’s cabinet, would oversee the SBI if the plan is approved. Pierce said giving the governor more oversight would jepoardize the SBI’s independence and could allow the governor to interfere in public corruption investigations.
“This is a reckless provision that poses a very real threat to the institutional integrity of the government of North Carolina,” Pierce said.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-997-3111, ext. 15.