5/31/12 House debates budget changes, eased school cuts

House debates budget changes, eased school cuts
The Associated Press The Times-News 5/31/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   RALEIGH — The House debated Wednesday a $20.3 billion state budget for next fiscal year that Republicans say eases public education cuts but that Democrats argue leaves school districts worse off compared to a year ago.

   Republican leaders planned in the evening to take the first of two required votes on adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget approved in 2011 over the objections of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.

   The measure would reduce by two-thirds the $503 million that school districts were expecting to return to the state in the coming school year. It also sets aside $50 million to help adult care homes and residents who are mentally ill and can live in the community.

   The plan would spend 1.7 percent more than the Legislature had provided for the coming fiscal year, but is 3 percent less than what Perdue proposed. The budgets of Perdue and the Republicans both depend on a slight revenue surplus this fiscal year. The governor would use a temporary three-quarter cent sales tax increase to fund more spending, but Republicans who control the Legislature say they won’t pass such a tax.

   House Democrats said the budget does little or nothing to hire back thousands of local educators who were laid off as a result of the GOPpenned budget last year. The reduction in the so-called “mandatory reversions” for districts to $170 million leaves public schools no better than a year ago, said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, a minority whip.

   Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, an education budget-writer, disagrees, saying the lower amount of money returned keeps “counties whole” after federal education jobs money goes away this fall. Cuts to the university and community college systems approved in 2011 were only reduced slightly.

   “This budget does not propel the public education system forward in any way, and in fact continues the line of moving us backward,” Glazier said at a news conference.

   House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said the Democratic caucus wouldn’t provide an alternative to find additional revenues beyond Perdue’s proposed tax increase, saying it’s up to Republican House leaders to find the necessary dollars.

   The Senate will make its own changes and work out a compromise to present to Perdue. She vetoed the spending plan last year, but the veto was overridden. House Republicans would need support for the budget from at least four Democrats — as they did a year ago—to build confidence about completing another potential override in 2012.    Republican leaders proposed one-time $250 bonuses to state employees, teachers and other public-school workers next year, rather than the recurring salary increases that Perdue favors.

   House members debated and voted on more than a dozen amendments by the early evening, rejecting one pushed by Democrats that would eliminate a provision that Planned Parenthood believes is targeting the group. The provision bars the Department of Health and Human Services from providing money for family planning and pregnancy prevention beyond local health departments.