7/24/13 Lawmakers give initial OK to state budget

Lawmakers give initial OK to state budget
Final House, Senate votes set for today
The Associated PressThe Times-News 7/24/13  
Reprinted with permission. 

   RALEIGH — Voters made a choice to put smaller-government Republicans in charge of the General Assembly, and the state’s $20.6 billion budget for this year is the expression of that, lawmakers said Tuesday.

   The state House voted 66-53 to give the spending plan for state operations preliminary approval on Tuesday, with 10 disaffected Republicans voting against the measure. The Senate voted 31-17 to approve the measure in a preliminary vote. Final votes are set for today on the spending plan written by Republicans, who won large majorities in both chambers and a political ally in GOP Gov. Pat McCrory in elections last year.

   “The state’s budget reflects the aspirations of its people. The citizens of North Carolina called for sweeping change in 2010 and reaffirmed their call for reform in 2012,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, a House budget co-chairman.

   The final version of the state budget “heeds the call of our citizens, and that is for a budget that is realistic , that is reasonable and that is responsible,” he said.

   The budget includes no pay raises for teachers or state employees, but gives them an additional five vacation days. It sets aside $524 million for tax cuts over the next two years. The plan cuts $286 million this year and $246 million next year in funding for classroom teachers by revising teacher-student ratios. It creates vouchers that allow students meeting income limits to attend private schools with the help of up to $4,200 per year in grants.

   The budget closes unused prisons, provides funding for dozens of currently vacant state trooper positions, pumps another $434 million into Medicaid health care spending for the poor, tucks $269 million into a savings reserve and still leaves another $250 million unspent as a hedge against further surprises or natural disasters.

   Dollar stressed that the budget also takes the next step in trying to right a historic wrong by offering $10 million for one-time payments to survivors of North Carolina’s forced-sterilization program. The state’s eugenics program forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people whom officials deemed feeble-minded or otherwise undesirable between 1929 and 1974.