NC House Makes Clear Budget Differences With Senate

May 26, 2017

Republican House budget committee members made it clear Thursday that they disagree with several spending cuts and policy provisions the Senate GOP approved in its state budget proposal two weeks ago.

The committees worked on a two-year plan that's heading for a vote by the full House next week. The House and Senate want to get a final negotiated budget to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's desk before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

A look at their differences and what lies ahead:

EDUCATION
 
The House education committee passed a plan to spend $17.5 billion on public education over the next two years--less than the Senate’s $18.3 billion two-year education plan. The House proposal however, does not yet include lawmakers’ plans for teacher, principal and school employee pay increases. Those will be rolled out next week.
 
Unlike the Senate plan, the House proposal leaves out any major cuts to the Department of Public Instruction. The Senate’s proposal slashes funding for the department’s operating expenses by 25 percent. But, like the Senate proposal, the House's plan shows Republican lawmakers' desire to give Republican superintendent Mark Johnson more control over the department. It would cut seven vacant positions and one filled position from the department, and give Johnson nearly a million dollars to hire staff who report only to him.
 
“We elected a new superintendent,” said Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union). “To me the message is clear that we wanted fundamental change in the Department of Public Instruction. If I was elected to a new position, I want to bring in my team.”
 
Also in line with the Senate plan, the House proposal would cut funding for central office administration in local school districts.
 
“The focus needs to be on the kids, not on central office,” Horn said. “The complaint I hear from parents across the state is 'why aren't you focusing on the kids? We've got enough administration.'”
 
The House plan would cut central office administration funding by about 15 percent over the next two years. The Senate plan would cut it by 25 percent.
 
The House plan also includes the following:
 

  • $11.3 million to increase the funding cap on children with disabilities from 12.5 to 13 percent.
  • $10.3 million one-time boost for textbooks and digital materials
  • $2.2 million cut to Cooperative Innovative High Schools
  • $21.7 million over two years to modernize the technology districts use to track human resources and payroll
  • $8.8 million boost to a pilot program to allow classroom teachers to take on managerial roles over other teachers
  • $900,000 to pay for an independent research organization to evaluate the effectiveness of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, or school vouchers.

The education spending plan will go to a full appropriations committee to be considered next week.

ENVIRONMENT

House budget writers declined to take a hatchet to the Department of Environmental Quality. The Senate had cut the department's spending by 9 percent and eliminated 45 positions, including the department's chief deputy.

Most job cuts would have come from shuttering a program designed to help businesses, cities and counties increase recycling and reduce trash. But citizens and local governments benefiting from the program persuaded House members to save it, said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

A Senate provision that would tighten eligibility requirements to obtain food stamps — potentially affecting 133,000 people, including 51,000 children and access to free or reduced school lunches — was left out of the House budget.

The House also would attempt to eliminate the waiting list for pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk 4-year-olds by mid-2019, in keeping with Cooper's budget, although the House would use federal funds to do it, not state funds as Cooper has proposed. The Senate's plan would only cut the wait list in half.

TRANSPORTATION AND JUSTICE

The House transportation budget focuses more on ferries, coastal dredging and ports and airports, while the Senate budget emphasizes repairing and replacing aging bridges. The House also rejected a Senate provision that would have ended the use of retired judges to fill in during legal emergencies. Instead, they want their use to be limited.

WHAT'S NEXT

Still unclear is how much the House will raise teacher pay and cut taxes — those will be released early next week. House Republicans have signaled for months that their proposed tax breaks won't be as substantial as the Senate, whose tax changes would eat up more than $1 billion in revenue through mid-2019.
The House budget proposal will reflect a "good balance of continuing tax reform and tax reduction with making sure that we're meeting the needs of our citizens," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and the House's senior budget writer.

But House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said the partially released GOP plan represents "a lot of missed opportunities." Democrats prefer Cooper's recommended budget, which would spend $580 million more next year than Republicans and fund programs for community college tuition and broadband access. Cooper's plan also would expand opioid abuse treatment programs much further than Republicans now propose.