NC Lawmakers, McCrory Hone In On Budget Variances

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Senate Republicans and Gov. Pat McCrory staked out claims Tuesday on their preferences for North Carolina's 2015 budget as negotiations moved up a notch in intensity, now that the House has passed its spending plan.

As Senate budget committee members met formally and picked at what they dislike about the $21.1 billion House budget approved last week, McCrory called on real estate agents to lobby senators on some of his favored initiatives that the Senate ignored.

They include extending a popular historic building rehabilitation credit that's set to expire, as well as a pilot program that would direct school districts to experiment with merit pay programs that McCrory hopes will retain veteran teachers. Both were included in the House budget but not in the Senate's plan approved May 31.

McCrory, who had his own budget proposal and must sign any final agreement by the House and Senate before it can become law, also suggested he doesn't like the Senate's teacher pay program in part because it would cut teacher assistant money almost in half to pay for it.

"We need to help the teachers, but I'm not going to help the teachers also at the sacrifice of other education," McCrory said at the North Carolina Association of Realtors meeting in Raleigh.

But Senate leaders panned the House education plan, which they say appears to retreat on education reforms promoted by Republicans since they took over the General Assembly three years ago. The House budget pulls back on requirements for third-graders to improve reading skills and cuts another $19.8 million from the University of North Carolina system, a key senator says.

"It seems like this budget we've received today turns back the clock to about 2010," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and a budget negotiator.

The House budget also doesn't require public school teachers to give up job protections such as tenure to receive large raises, as the Senate does.

McCrory and the Senate share skepticism about a House proposal to find another $106 million for teacher raises through the North Carolina Education Lottery.

The House budget would double the limit the lottery can spend on advertising to meet that goal. However, some question whether the lottery can generate that extra money because of other budget provisions that limit the types of advertising and its wording.

"I have concerns about the revenue stream calculations in the House budget. I think they're pretty obvious," McCrory told reporters. He declined to say whether he believes raising lottery advertising expenses to get more money is a good idea, saying he won't negotiate through the press.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee scheduled a meeting Wednesday to hear from North Carolina lottery executive director Alice Garland about whether she believes the lottery can meet the $106 million goal with the advertising changes.

The competing House and Senate budget bills also differ on Medicaid spending. The Senate sets aside $206 million to plan for additional growth in medical expenses. The House and McCrory set aside much less in reserves for Medicaid.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he expects the two chambers will sit down and begin negotiations later this week.





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