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House budget does some good things

The $21.1 billion budget unveiled by the N.C. House Tuesday still fails to adequately address the state’s needs, but it’s a significant improvement over last month’s Senate plan.

The House plan wisely gives all teachers a much needed raise without forcing them give up their career status, or tenure, to get it – as the Senate proposal does. It also doesn’t push up to 15,000 disabled and older N.C. residents off Medicaid by changing the eligibility requirements. And it rejects the Senate plan to ditch Gov. Pat McCrory’s Medicaid overhaul plan that has been embraced by health care providers to bring budget predictability to Medicaid and improve patient care.

Moreover, the House plan provides for needed expansion of the N.C. pre-kindergarten program, does not cut teacher assistants in the early grades, increases funding for child protective services and provides more money for the state medical examiner’s office. The Observer’s recent series documenting egregious flaws in N.C. death rulings and investigations underscore the need for more resources for the medical examiner.

We applaud the House for not following the Senate’s destructive path on these and other issues.

Unfortunately, House members employ a specious way to pay for these needs. They raised the cap on advertising expenses for the state lottery from 1 percent of overall lottery sales to 2 percent, aiming to spur an increase in lottery participation and profits. The profits would cover the teacher and state employee pay raises and other expenses. The House plan also raises revenue through unwise deep cuts to state agencies.

The lottery idea is not only a highly speculative way to secure revenue, it is cynical and counterproductive. Low-income people disproportionately play the lottery, and this move aims to seduce more of the people who can least afford it to play when the likelihood of winning is low. Conservative Republicans who in the past have railed against the lottery are being disingenuous in supporting this proposal.

The House budget also disappoints in other ways. In a blatantly political move, it transfers, as the Senate version does, the State Bureau of Investigation from Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office to the Department of Public Safety. Cooper, a Democrat, is running for governor and has been critical of the General Assembly. The transfer is unnecessary and is an obvious retaliatory move. The House keeps the State Crime Lab in the Attorney General’s office.

The House plan makes a number of other bad choices – eliminating state funding for Family Court and changing income guidelines to make it harder for families to qualify for child care subsidies, for instance.

On the whole, this is not a plan we’d endorse. But it’s better than the Senate plan. It tracks more closely to the governor’s proposal. We hope the good parts will survive.

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