White: Dems shut out

Published 1:06 am Saturday, April 16, 2011

State Sen. Stan White (left) chats with Guinn Leverett, Belhaven’s town manager, Thursday outside the Belhaven Community Chamber of Commerce banquet. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

BELHAVEN – State Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, on Thursday accused Senate Republicans of locking their Democratic colleagues out of the state budget process.

White, in town for the Belhaven Community Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet, also criticized some of the proposed cuts called for in a House draft budget released this week.

“My biggest concern is that the Democrats have not been allowed to participate in the budget at all,” the senator said.

Republicans in the Legislature “have been meeting in secret behind closed doors, and they dropped the budget on us at about 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon,” White added, referring to meetings leading to the release of the GOP-endorsed spending plan.

“And the press saw it and the public saw it at the same time we saw it,” he commented. “There’s a lot of things in there that really do bother me. Cuts to education, some specific things like tolling the ferries here along the coast. But there’s nothing in there that I can see that’s created any jobs. We’ve been (in Raleigh) about 43 days and have not passed what I call a single piece of substantial legislation.”

White represents Beaufort County and seven other northeast counties in the Senate.

Attempts to get a response from spokesmen in the office of Sen. Phil Berger, Senate president pro tempore, weren’t immediately successful Friday afternoon.

The budget unveiled by GOP leaders in the House would cut $1.25 billion in state spending in the next two-year budget, according to The Associated Press.

The budget is a draft, was produced by a subcommittee and hasn’t been approved by the full House.

The budget includes steep cuts to education, among them an 8.8-percent cut to public schools and a 15.5-percent reduction in funding for the University of North Carolina system.

The state’s community colleges would see 10 percent of their money scaled back.

According to a news release posted on the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s website, among other effects the budget “would continue larger class sizes in grades 4-12; would cut personnel who support students and teachers; would end teacher assistants in second and third grades; and would trim assistant principals by one-fifth.”

The budget would fund teacher assistant jobs for kindergarten and grade-one classrooms.

White said he didn’t “want people to get alarmed” by the House budget, which he predicted would be “cleaned up” before being approved and sent over to the Senate for its consideration, perhaps in a couple of a weeks.

Yet, he indicated Democrats could have little say on the final budget document.

“Again, as of right now there are no Democrats on the budget committee in the Senate,” he said.

State Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, disagreed with at least some of White’s statements.

“I think we’ve met the concerns for most folks in that we have not cut teachers,” Cook said. “I thought we did a heck of a good job there considering the level of deficit that we had to meet. I just thought that the folks that worked on that did a heck of a job.”

The budget does hit many teacher assistants, he acknowledged.

“It’s unfortunate that had to happen, but given the level we had to fill it was unavoidable,” Cook said, adding early estimates projected the budget shortfall would be $3.7 billion.

The shortfall now is projected to be around $2.5 billion, according to AP.

Cook serves on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources and wasn’t directly involved in cobbling together the education figures.

Cook contended White hadn’t been excluded from the budget process.

“If he means by excluded that nobody listened or nobody agreed with him that may have been, but then folks don’t take every word I say and do it, either,” he concluded.