Publisher's note: The author of this fine report is Barry Smith, who is a contributor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
House and Senate agree on $20.2 billion General Fund spending plan
RALEIGH House and Senate budget negotiators have reached a compromise $20.2 billion General Fund budget deal for the upcoming fiscal year that provides 1.2 percent raises to state employees and teachers while restoring $251 million in previous cuts to public education.
"It's truly an extraordinary budget that lives within our means," House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said during a midday press conference announcing the accord.
"The budget restores approximately $251 million for recurring expenses in K-12 education," said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. Part of an education reform package pushed by Berger made it into the budget, including provisions to deal with reading in early grades and prohibit social promotion. It also provides for the beginning of merit pay for teachers and pays for five additional instructional school days.
The budget does not include a provision to do away with teacher tenure and implement contracts for educators.
It also does not include money to compensate victims of a forced sterilization - or eugenics -- program that the state conducted over several decades, ending in the mid-1970s.
"I said if eugenics didn't occur, it'd be a personal failure and at this point it is and it's something that I'll continue to work on," Tillis said.
He said that it's not likely to get out of this summer's short session.
"Nothing's done until sine die," Tillis said, referring to the final adjournment of the General Assembly. "But I think there's a very strong message from the Senate that they're not prepared to take it up this year."
Legislative leaders said the compromise budget also:
• Provides $274 million for additional Medicaid funding. It also sets aside $100 million in a savings reserve for Medicaid.
• Cuts and freezes the state gasoline tax at 37.5 cents per gallon. It's currently 38.9 cents per gallon.
• Provides the 1.2 percent pay raises for teachers and state employees. Leaders note that's the first raise they have gotten since 2008. Community colleges and universities would be given enough money to provide a 1.2 percent raise. However, they'd have flexibility in how to hand out those raises.
• Fully funds the state retirement system, with retirees getting a 1 percent cost of living adjustment.
• Eliminates the position of assistant secretary of commerce for community assistance. The job is held by Henry McKoy, who was the focus of questions and media reports regarding his role in trying to direct public funding to a nonprofit he once controlled.
• Provides $2.7 million for smoking cessation programs.
• Suspends proposed tolling on the Bayview-Aurora ferry.
Tillis appealed to Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue to either sign the budget or allow it to become law without her signature. "The absence of this budget is going to do a great disservice to the teachers and the students and the LEAs [school systems] across this state and to a number of people who are dependent on the state to help out with Medicaid services," Tillis said. "The alternative is to go to last year's budget, and I don't think anyone in this chamber thinks that's a good idea."
The Senate plans to vote on the budget Thursday. The House could vote on the budget Thursday or Friday.