Politics & Government
8:10 am
Sat May 31, 2014

Senate Gives Final Approval To Budget Plan

Credit Dave DeWitt

The state Senate has passed a $21.2 billion dollar spending plan that offers big raises for teachers if they forego tenure protections. It also eliminates many teaching assistant positions. Last night, senators amended the budget to take out a provision recommending UNC study closing Elizabeth City State University. They also created a scholarship fund for teaching assistants. 

The state Senate has passed a $21.2 billion dollar budget that includes big pay raises for teachers who give up their job protections, known as career status.

After nearly three and a half hours of debate that lasted into the evening, Senate President Phil Berger was adamant that his colleagues understand what his chamber’s budget proposal is all about.

"I think first and foremost, the priority in this budget is the priority that every member of this body has said is a priority for them. And that is- raise teacher pay," said Berger.

That is the main hallmark of the Senate’s budget plan- an 11% average raise for teachers who decide to forgo career status, and give up the right to a hearing if they’re fired or demoted. The plan would also end funding for teacher assistants in the second and third grades. Democrats, including Senator Dan Blue, say that’s a bad idea: 

"What is it that some of your first second third grade teachers must’ve done to ya? Because what we have done to the teachers of this state with this budget and the earlier budgets is to take some sort of vendetta out on them."

Blue said offering teachers raises but cutting approximately ten thousand teaching assistants is a shell game. He said too many teaching assistant positions have been cut already. Toward the end of yesterday’s debate, Senator Tom Apodaca put forth an amendment to allocate $5 million worth of need-based scholarship money for loans for teaching assistants who decide to become teachers. It passed, as did an amendment put forth by Senator Bill Cook. Cook’s amendment deleted a section of the budget proposal encouraging the UNC system to study closing Elizabeth City State University.

"I don’t think the Board of Governors at the University of North Carolina needs our legislative prompting to review and study declining school enrollment. This amendment deletes that requirement," said Cook.

That amendment met with approval from both Republicans and Democrats- it passed 47-0. But Democrats made their dissatisfaction clear with other items that remain in the Senate’s budget proposal, including shifting Medicaid out of the Department of Health and Human Services into a new agency. Senator Floyd McKissick says DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and her deputies have worked with Medicaid providers across the state to come up with a model that would provide good health care and contain costs.

"What we’re moving to now in terms of Medicaid North Carolina under this budget is an entirely new model," said McKissick. "We’re abandoning even everything that Secretary Wos and her team has spent the last year working on."

Changes to Medicaid could eliminate eligibility for around 15 thousand people. Another part of the Senate budget proposal would move the state crime lab and the bureau of investigation from the Attorney General’s office to the Department of Public Safety. Republicans said North Carolina is one of only a handful of states that have their SBI directed by the attorney general’s office: 

"SBI has functioned well. We might be one of only eight states that does it this way. Maybe that’s the model we wanna stand by and stick by. I really have to ask rhetorically but I think I know the answer to it already, are we doing this because Roy Cooper happens to be a Democrat Attorney General?"

McKissick said there are other cuts to the Auditor’s office, the Department of Insurance and other agencies where Democrats are in charge. No one stepped forward to answer McKissick’s question. The Senate budget plan will now be sent to the House, where leaders there will begin to put together their own proposal.