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Originally published: 2014-06-11 14:25:45
Last modified: 2014-06-11 14:25:45

N.C. House unveils its budget proposal

by Anna Oakes

The N.C. House of Representatives on Tuesday released its proposed $21.09 billion budget for fiscal year 2014-15, following the state Senate's passage of a budget bill May 31.

The budget proposal will be heard by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday and is slated to be considered by the full House this week.

The House budget -- which would align more closely with Gov. Pat McCrory's public school spending plan than that of the Senate -- increases starting pay for entry-level teachers to $33,000 and would offer an average 5 percent raise to teachers.

The Senate budget offered an 11 percent pay increase to teachers, but only if they agreed to give up their tenure status.

The state's tradition of teacher tenure is currently tied up in the court system. The General Assembly last year passed a law that would phase out tenure status for teachers, instead giving all teachers either one-, two- or four-year contracts. But Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood recently issued a permanent injunction against implementation of the law, which he ruled is unconstitutional.

While the Senate budget proposed to implement teacher pay increases in part by cutting second- and third-grade teacher assistant positions, the House budget proposal aims to foot the bill with increased lottery revenue achieved by amplified advertising efforts.

State employees -- including University of North Carolina system faculty -- would receive a $1,000 increase in annual salary. The Senate budget awarded $809 annual increases to state employees, but excluded UNC faculty and administrators.

The House budget would also allocate $18.7 million to restore master's and other advanced degree supplements for teachers, which were cut last year.

Appalachian State University, in particular, has taken a hit in its graduate student enrollment as a result of the lost supplements, administrators have said.

The office of House Speaker Thom Tillis noted in a statement that the House budget would not make changes to Medicaid eligibility; the Senate version would cut approximately 15,000 elderly, disabled and blind patients from the state Medicaid rolls. The House proposal would establish a $117.8 million state risk reserve for the Medicaid program, which has experienced cost overruns in recent years.

In addition, according to Tillis' office, the House budget would:

- provide $1 million (a 23 percent increase) to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to address operational issues;

- include $9 million of additional funding for pre-K;

- provide $1.8 million and 25 positions to implement long-term coal ash management and cleanup statewide;

- transfers the State Bureau of Investigation to the Department of Public Safety;

- fund three new positions within the State Board of Elections to investigate fraud in elections, discrepancies in voter registration information and to pursue prosecution for violations of election law; and

- increase appropriations from the Highway Fund and the Highway Trust Fund by 3.9 percent.