Gov. Pat McCrory released his first budget last week, proposing a balanced budget for fiscal years 2013-2015 on the premise of claiming to continue his administration’s focus on finding longterm solutions to fix North Carolina’s economy, transform education and make government more efficient.
The governor’s spending plan totals $20.6 billion over the next two years and states that “Governor McCrory’s fiscally responsible budget strengthens North Carolina's foundation for future generations and moves the state closer to fulfilling and even exceeding its potential.”
North Carolina House of Representative Democrat Joe Sam Queen and North Carolina State Senate Republican Jim Davis have differing views on the governor's budget. While certain aspects of the budget both Davis and Queen could not be further apart on such as education, the Western North Carolina representatives can agree on the budgets neglect of funding to the rural part of the state.
The proposed budget plan calls for the hiring of 1,800 more full-time teachers over two years. The McCrory administration prioritizes resources on hiring more full-time certified teachers throughout North Carolina over the next two years rather than classroom assistants.
The proposed budget eliminates $117 million in public school funding to local districts for teacher assistants for second and third grades, meaning the loss of money equal to 5,000 assistants, according to Rep. Queen. The money would be shifted to allow for the hiring of 1,800 additional teachers over the two year budget plan.
Senator Jim Davis supports the governor's decision to hire more full-time teachers. “I like that the governor is leading the state to hire more full-time teachers and to cut back on teacher assistant positions in grades that don't benefit from them such as second and third grade.”
The investment in 1,800 full-time teachers comes at a price, a price that Rep. Joe Sam Queen says is too high.
“The governor's budget is not friendly for education,” he said. “It cuts 5,000 teacher assistant positions across the state. Those positions are not just crucial for our public education system, that is a slashing of 5,000 jobs right out of the gate. The addition of 900 new teachers each year doesn't even cover growth in student population.”
The governor's budget also calls for an increase in tuition costs across the state. The budget looks for $136 million in spending reductions and efficiencies for The University of North Carolina system and recommends increasing out-ofstate tuition by 12.3 percent at places like UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and four other campuses, and by six percent elsewhere.
“Even with an tuition increase, North Carolina's cost would be still lower than most states,” said Sen. Davis. “Students are still getting a bargain for their education. Students will just be paying more for their own education. We have a responsibility to follow the state constitution which states that we have to provide a free education as practicable. We have to get revenue from somewhere, and this is one of those places.”
Rep. Queen believes that balancing the budget on the backs of students is not the answer to the state's financial troubles.
“The budget calls for raising the cost of attending a university and community college in the state,” he said. “It continues to cut funding to the university system. The budget also continues the cuts to our community colleges during this recession and those institutions should be the answer in building our state’s workforce, expanding job opportunities.”
Additional education allocations include:
— a one percent pay raise for teachers and state employees: $135.7 million
— partial restoration of textbook spending reduction: $58.2 million
— teach additional 6,600 public school children in the fall: $11.2 million
Gov. McCrory budget includes money for eugenics reparations. McCrory budgeted $10 million for compensation to victims of the state's former Eugenics Board Program, despite the bill's previous failure to make it through the Senate last year. While the original legislation had backing from Gov. Bev Perdue and passed the State House of Representatives, the bill died in the Senate.
The N.C. Justice for Sterilization Foundation estimates that 7,600 North Carolinians were sterilized from 1929 to 1974, and the bill last summer would have awarded each living victim up to $50,000. The number of living victims is estimated anywhere between 1,350 and 1,800.
McCrory's choice to allocate $10 million for the program has drawn criticism from his Republican colleagues, including Sen. Davis. “I am not in favor of the Eugenics fund in general,” said Davis. “What happened was unethical, but no amount of money is going to fix it. Over the past 30, 40 or even 50 years, no other legislature has thought they should take care of it and they were the ones who did it.”
Rep. Queen views the $10 million line item as a political ploy. “There is no way that funding for the eugenics program will survive the budget process,” said Queen. “If it were going to pass, it would have already.”
Funding for rural counties
The proposed spending plan, collects or intercepts $143 million in reserves or trust fund money for state government operations, which includes $65 million that would otherwise be heading to the Golden LEAF foundation, which receives half of N.C.'s share of national tobacco settlement funds.
If the budget passes, the Rural Center would see its annual appropriations cut from $16 million to $6 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year. And for Golden LEAF, which would see its budget drop from $65 million to zero. It also cuts the state funding to AdvantageWest, the regional economic development partnership, by 60 percent.
These groups are seen as critical to rural communities in Western North Carolina. They provide grant funding to nonprofits and government entities to help job creation and extend loans to individuals that are investing in the state's rural corners. They are also instrumental in developing the technological infrastructure necessary to the 21st century economy.
Despite their political affiliations, both Queen and Davis believe that Gov. McCrory's budget neglects rural funding for the state.
“The counties I represent are tobacco counties and utilize the funds in the Golden LEAF foundation,” said Queen. “The governor wants to put the money that would be used in those funds for the rural part of the state in the general fund, which would mean this part of the state wouldn't ever see it. We can't let that happen.”
“I do not agree with the governor's plan to cut back on the Golden LEAF foundation and The Rural Center,” said Sen. Davis. “I will do everything I can to preserve these programs.”
Additional budget highlights
— Cuts spending by one to three percent in various agencies.
— Shifts $43 million in N.C. Education Lottery funds over two years to purchase digital reading tablets for students, and would cut by half funds that could be spent in lottery advertising.
— Seeks $1.4 million for Saturday hours at 20 Division of Motor Vehicles offices next year. — Allots $7 million over two years to restore drug courts around the state
— Saves $54 million over two years and accounts for decreases in the prison population by closing four prisons in eastern North Carolina and the Western Youth Institution near Morganton
— Adds probation and parole jobs, cutting caseloads to 60 offenders per officer at a cost of $20 million
— Provides $2.7 million for the Department of Commerce to both develop and implement a new economic development and branding strategy.
“The governor calls for fairness and equity in this budget, but it is hard to see where it is getting fair and more importantly equity,” said Queen. “He is setting aside money for rebranding the state, and I think the budget does just that. It rebrands North Carolina as offering a poor education and lower wages and being behind other states economically. Where are the jobs in the budget? The budget calls for the state to turn its back on those who need our help now.”
“I believe overall that the governor is on the right track with his budget and gives the Senate a good lead off,” said Sen. Davis. “It calls for the state to live within its means.”
The North Carolina Senate will continue developing its budget over the coming months before passing the buck to the House. After both branches of the General Assembly have established individual budgets, they will meet with the governor and develop the state's 2013-15 budget plan.