The state Senate on Thursday produced a new budget offer that Gov. Pat McCrory threatened to veto because the proposal includes the 11 percent teacher raises that he and House Republicans say will come at the cost of too many other state responsibilities.
The House issued another offer that inches their proposed teacher raise from 5 percent to 6 percent. McCrory said in a statement that he supported the House position.
“This is a long-term, sustainable and affordable plan in which I stand with our teachers, our students, our principals, our superintendents, business leaders, House Democrats and House Republicans,” McCrory said. “The Senate is currently standing by themselves with no visible support outside of the Beltline of our state capital.
“I will veto the latest Senate plan or any plan that resembles it because I know of no financial way we can go beyond the House proposal without eliminating thousands of teacher assistants, cutting Medicaid recipients and putting at risk future core state services.”
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After a few breakthroughs this week, negotiations on a revised $21 billion budget for the year that began July 1 appear to have hit another sticky spot. The House has scheduled a public budget meeting for Friday, but the Senate’s chief budget negotiator, Harry Brown of Jacksonville, and Senate leader Phil Berger said they weren’t going.
Berger said he was “disappointed that the governor would not support the most robust raise we could give our teachers.”
After McCrory put out a statement, Berger issued one of his own, saying he was “surprised by (McCrory’s) demand for a budget without cuts to teacher assistants and Medicaid – given that his own budget included almost $20 million in cuts to teacher assistants along with significant, though ultimately unachievable, cuts to Medicaid.”
McCrory’s Medicaid budget included a $60 million assessment of local mental health managed care organizations that the federal government said the state was not allowed to take.
“The governor has been unable to sustain any of his previous vetoes in the Senate,” Berger’s statement continued. “It would be more helpful for him to work with members of both chambers of the legislature, since his unwillingness to listen to those who have an honest disagreement with him on spending priorities in favor of staging media stunts and budget gimmicks is a major reason the budget has not been finalized.”
Budget negotiations between House and Senate Republicans have snared on several big items, including teacher raises, funding for teacher assistants, and Medicaid enrollment.
The Senate plan would make deep cuts to teacher assistants and remove thousands of elderly and disabled people from Medicaid, the state and federal government insurance program.
The Senate budget cuts $233 million from teacher assistant funding, the equivalent of about 4,700 jobs.
Senate Republicans’ top priority is teacher raises, while the House priority is teacher assistants and Medicaid, Berger said. The Senate proposal has $170 million the House can put to those items, he said.
“We will continue to push for the most robust teacher raise that we can put forward,” he said.
The Senate budget proposal includes new figures for Medicaid savings from eliminating people who are medically needy from the rolls. Those are people who have extraordinary medical expenses, but whose incomes would not otherwise qualify them for Medicaid. The change jumped the estimated savings from $3.5 million to more than $100 million.
Sen. Louis Pate, a Mount Olive Republican who works on the Medicaid budget, said he’s still trying to figure out why the initial estimate was so far off, but he thinks that there are more medically needy people on Medicaid than the legislature knew about. The Senate budget had originally stated that 3,342 medically needy could be affected. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, the state’s medically needy program enrollment in 2010 was 54,100.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, the chief budget negotiator in the House, said House members will be at the Friday meeting even if senators don’t show up.
The House wants a balanced budget that preserves assistants and classroom resources that teachers and superintendents don’t want cut, he said.
Superintendents, a principal and a teacher who attended a budget negotiation at the request of House members on Wednesday spoke about the importance of having teacher assistants especially now that the state has a new law requiring most students read at grade level before being promoted to fourth grade. Republican senators walked out of the room when superintendents started talking because, the senators said, presentations by noncommittee members broke the rules.
Teacher assistants perform varied duties in schools, according to the superintendents, and in some districts, including Cumberland, they drive school buses. The Senate budget would cut the teacher assistant ranks by about half.
Negotiators made some headway this second week in the new budget year. The House agreed to drop its bid to raise more money by increasing lottery ticket sales. The Senate agreed to drop its requirement for teachers who accept raises to give up tenure.