Aug. 03--The 2014 not-so-short session of the North Carolina General Assembly lapsed into the first days of August and spawned a new state budget before legislators decided other issues could be tackled in November, if at all. (Today we'll look at the state budget; on Monday we'll examine what lawmakers left undone.)
Considering the number of harebrained ideas floating around Raleigh well beyond their merited shelf-life, the new state budget could have been much worse than what we ended up with. It also could have been considerably better.
Teachers will receive an average raise of 7 percent, with some getting up to 18 percent and others a bit less. The increase was long overdue and should immediately make North Carolina more competitive for public-school jobs. Seeing Virginia and Texas recruit North Carolina teachers with guarantees of better treatment has been shameful. Unfortunately, some of this increase was paid for by tapping teachers' longevity pay, which will offset the incentive to stay in education.
How much to increase teacher pay and how to pay for it was the big stumbling block throughout this session.
One way to pay for spending is with additional revenues. But Republican legislative leaders were unwilling to grapple with the tax reforms they approved last year, producing less revenue than expected, much less tweak those rates to cover new spending.
With additional revenue off the table, legislators had to slash expenses elsewhere. The much bigger teacher raises favored by the Senate would have forced severe and painful cuts to many important state programs. The more modest increases still had a high price.
In addition to the shift in compensating teachers for length of service, much of the additional funding will come from reductions in Medicaid that will pay doctors less for their services. That discourages them from working with poor patients. Full details of the plan will be worked out later.
A few worthwhile items that had been targeted for cuts in one budget proposal or another survived. State employees will receive $1,000 raises and additional vacation days. Military veterans and their dependents will be eligible for in-state tuition at state schools. Newly hired investigators will examine a backlog of election complaints. Funding the botanical lab at Fayetteville Technical Community College and the Revolutionary War House in the Horseshoe state historic site in Moore County survived.
The governor is expected to sign the budget. He should. After November's elections, perhaps lawmakers can return in a less politicized atmosphere to refine this year's work and address shortcomings.
(c)2014 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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