Senate budget is hitting home

Published 5:59 pm Friday, May 21, 2010

Staff Writer

The N.C. Senate lent final approval to its adjustment of the two-year state budget in a 30-16 vote Thursday.
Now, the budget moves to the state House, where appropriations subcommittees and committees will work on asserting House budget-writers’ preferences and ironing out differences in the spending plans favored by the majority in each chamber.
“This year, as in most years, the House and the Senate priorities are pretty well aligned with each other as well as with what the governor wants to do,” said Bill Holmes, spokesman for House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange.
The road map for 2010-2011 spending won’t be finalized until it has been voted on by the House and signed into law by Gov. Beverly Perdue, Holmes noted.
House and Senate leaders have voiced their desire to wrap up the budget work before the current fiscal year ends June 30.
Among items of local interest in the Senate’s view of the budget is a $350,000 allocation to help with the Town of Belhaven’s harbor project.
Reached for comment Thursday, Town Manager Guinn Leverett said he and the town finance officer were busy crafting Belhaven’s budget for the next fiscal year and hadn’t had a chance to review the Senate’s numbers.
The Belhaven harbor project, or Wynne’s Gut Gateway, as it has been dubbed by Leverett, includes three waterfront endeavors: construction of dockage downstream from Wynne’s Gut creek, restoration of the watershed upstream from the creek and replacement of the Water Street bridge.
The Senate budget lowers funding for the Aurora Fossil Museum and some other nonprofit facilities getting money through the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The museum’s state support would be scaled back by $2,894, for a total of $54,981.
“You know what? It’s not that bad of a cut, and as long as we can continue to have people support us we will make it,” said Andrea Stilley, museum director.
“Any time you can’t depend on money you’re concerned, and that’s why you try to be as self-sufficient as possible,” Stilley added.
The reduction in funding under the Grassroots Science Program wouldn’t likely lead to the elimination of museum events, but, with less cash on hand, those programs might not expand as the staff would have liked, she said.
Public schools statewide would take a hit in some of the Senate’s line items.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that schools would suffer a 3-percent reduction, around $219 million less than the current allocation.
School districts would also be charged with trimming another $80 million on their own, The Associated Press reported.
The budget contains a maximum, two-day furlough for teachers “as a very last resort” in order to avoid layoffs, related Schorr Johnson, spokesman for Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare.
Basnight is president pro tempore of the Senate.
The furlough would have to occur on a “noninstructional” day, when no classes were scheduled, and school boards would be obligated to hold public hearings before instituting the days off, Johnson indicated.
School districts requested the furlough as a contingency for “when they have tried every other angle to try to keep teachers in the classroom and save teaching jobs,” he commented.
The furlough would not be mandated by the state, according to Johnson.
“The budget does everything possible to try to keep teachers in the classroom and avoid teacher layoffs,” he said. “It provides some flexibility to local school districts to do everything they can to save teaching jobs.”
Don Phipps, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, declined immediate comment because he hadn’t had an opportunity to read through the budget, said BCS spokeswoman Sarah Hodges.
The monetary blueprint signed off on by the Senate would let more than 80 percent of the state’s small businesses enjoy the same tax rate as large corporations, Johnson said.
Each small business would have to have up to $850,000 in cumulative gross income to take advantage of the tax-rate reduction, he said.
“We recognize that this is just one effort, but in a budget where almost half a billion has to be cut, this is something that Sen. Basnight and the leadership wanted to do,” Johnson added.
The Senate’s nod toward expediting the budgeting process comes in a period of slow tax collections and other problems brought on by the Great Recession.
The general-fund appropriations would amount to more than $18.9 billion, leaving an unappropriated balance in excess of $5.2 million.
Community Editor Greg Katski and Staff Writer Betty Mitchell Gray contributed to this story. For more on the budget, see future editions.
Items of area interest
in budget adjustment
OK’d by the N.C. Senate:
• $54,981 for the Aurora Fossil Museum, which is $2,894 less than the 2009-2010 appropriation.
• $350,000 for the Belhaven harbor project.
• $3.61 million for renovations to boating-access areas statewide.
• less money for the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center — from more than $4.6 million down to more than $3.9 million.
• $6.1 million for capital improvements — Life Sciences Building advance planning at East Carolina University.
Source: State budget documents available online at the N.C. General Assembly’s Web site