June 12--By Paul Woolverton
When the state House approves its version of North Carolina's fiscal 2015 budget this week, it will pass a $21.1 billion plan that protects projects and programs in the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg area that the Senate wanted to cut in its $21.2 billion plan.
But not everything goes unscathed.
Cumberland County school board Chairman Greg West was relieved that the House rejected the Senate plan to slash funding for teacher assistants.
But a botanical laboratory operated by Fayetteville Technical Community College is slashed. It has been a target of budget writers for years, and Fayetteville lawmakers have fought to protect it.
The House is scheduled to vote on its version of the budget today and Friday, said state Rep. John Szoka, a Cumberland County Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. Next week, House and Senate leaders and the governor will negotiate a compromise. The governor in May proposed a $20 billion spending plan.
Here are items that affect people in and near Fayetteville:
Where the Senate offered teachers an 11 percent on average pay increase, the House plan holds that to 5 percent. West likes the smaller raise better because the Senate funded the teacher raises with deep cuts elsewhere. Cumberland County anticipates eliminating 220 of its 330 classroom teacher assistants under the Senate plan.
The House plan cuts none of them.
The Senate budget requires teachers to give up their career status program, also known as tenure, in order to get raises. The House does not require that.
If a teacher has career status, West said, the school system has to more thoroughly document its reasons when it wants to fire a teacher. Teachers with career status shouldn't have to give that up, he said.
The governor wanted to end $100,000 of state funding for a laboratory that Fayetteville Tech operates at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville.
The Senate budget protects the funding.
The House originally wanted to eliminate it, but Szoka said the Appropriations Committee agreed on Wednesday to allow Fayetteville Tech to shift $50,000 to the lab from elsewhere in its budget.
He hopes that the final budget compromise restores the $100,000, saying that the lab is an example of a successful public-private partnership and its success shouldn't be punished.
The House budget calls for a study on whether optometry schools should be established at any of eight universities, including Fayetteville State University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Szoka said its budget also, using an amendment advanced by Democratic state Rep. Marvin Lucas of Spring Lake, includes Fayetteville State in a $3 million program along with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to do what is described as "game-changing research" into defense, military and security.
The House would create a new hazardous materials team of emergency responders to serve Moore and Lee counties to handle accidents from natural gas mining expected to start in that area in 2015.
The mining would be done using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects water and chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release trapped gas.
The House sets aside $1.2million to open a prison-like operation called a "confinement in response to violation" facility in Robeson County to house people who violated their probations. It would open March 15 in a prison that was shut down last year, costing 80 jobs.
The new operation would employ 43 people.
The Senate budget also plans to open this project.
North Carolina has a tax credit for people who develop historic properties. It expires Jan. 1.
The House budget, with an amendment added to it Wednesday, revives this credit, although it would be smaller than before.
The Fayetteville City Council on Tuesday asked the General Assembly to keep the credit, saying that it would be important for the preservation and rehabilitation of historic sites such as the E.E. Smith House on Blount Street and the dilapidated Prince Charles Hotel downtown.
The tax credits would vary between 10 percent and 25 percent based on the cost of the project and its location in the state. Some former manufacturing and utility service properties could get more, as could sites in impoverished counties.
Szoka said he opposed extension of the tax credit. The state is lowering taxes for all taxpayers and setting flat rates, he said, so there is no more need for tax credits such as this.
The Senate wanted to close two museum properties in the Cape Fear region. One is the House in the Horseshoe state historic site in Moore County, which is where a Revolutionary War battle was fought. The other is the N.C. Museum of Forestry in Whiteville in Columbus County.
The House budget protects these properties.
Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3512.
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