McCrory's NC budget touches on teacher pay, fracking, coal ash, - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

McCrory's NC budget touches on teacher pay, fracking, coal ash, puppy mills

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The North Carolina General Assembly returned on Wednesday with a bang as protesters outside clanged pots and pans, and Republican leaders – including Gov. Pat McCrory - promised an extension of the changes they made in 2013.

McCrory’s budget touched on teacher pay, managing coal ash, funding testing for fracking, helping people with substance abuse and cracking down on puppy mills.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running for Senate, said teacher and state employee raises are a House priority in what’s called the short session. The teacher pay proposal was unveiled in February by Gov. Pat McCrory.

“I’ve been committed to giving raises to all teachers and state employees since our announcement in February, and that remains a priority,” Tillis said. “Five years ago, under Democratic leadership, the state placed teachers and state employees on unpaid furloughs. Because of the work we have put into turning our economy around, our state is able to move forward with important issues like state employee and teacher raises.”

Tillis described the budget this year as “manageable.”

The Republican agenda, however, met with skepticism from some as Moral Monday leaders continued their protest. The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said of the General Assembly leaders, “We hope they will change. We really want them to go down in history on the right side of history. Nobody wants to see their public policy leaders on the wrong side of history.”

The Moral Monday protest will resume next week as the session continues. The short session is likely to last around 8 weeks and is generally a time when the state evaluates its budget and makes adjustments accordingly.

Also on Monday, a separate group of protesters banged pots and pans to protest Republican policies.

Last year, McCrory put a 1 percent raise in his budget for state employees and for teachers. That proposal was not adopted by the General Assembly.

Last year, however, was not a major election year, and state political leaders have a long history of hard-nosed decisions in non-election years and then trying to make more voter-friendly decisions in election years. The Republicans dominate both houses of the General Assembly but are expected to face fierce Democratic resistance in the November elections.

According to the North Carolina General Assembly Fiscal Research Division, North Carolina General Fund collections through March were $12.1 million above the revenue target of $14.5 billion. Sales and corporate income tax revenue were strong, but “wage and salary income tax withholdings are below target.”

The department predicted “steady, moderate growth” through 2014.

State budget director Art Pope said North Carolina “had lower than expected economic growth.” There was still growth, he said, but not at the pace the state had anticipated.

Pope said the state population grew at only 1.1 percent, not at the anticipated 1.4 percent. He said wages and salaries were expected to grow at 3 percent but only threw 3.9 percent.

The state Fiscal Research Division said Total Personal Income collections are $221.4 million below target.

McCrory, in unveiling his budget Tuesday, said the state would have to be careful in its spending and asked all departments to make cuts as needed. He said he even decided to sell the state helicopter after deciding it was too extensive to justify the cost.

McCrory said he would dedicate more resources “to begin unleashing our oil and gas resources.” He said there will be “pilot drills” to “find out what resources are underneath our grounds.”

“We’ve put money in the budget to begin that process,” he said.

McCrory did not specifically use the word “fracking,” but the copy of the budget on the government’s website gave details. In the proposal, the Division of Energy, Minerals and Land Resources would get a 35 percent in funds for the shale gas program.

Also, the state would spend $500,000 as part of an “industry consortium to drill three vertical core holes” in the Sanford sub-basin. The drilling would provide information about the state’s energy potential and “serve as a mechanism to attract qualified

companies interested in safely and responsibly exploring for natural gas in North Carolina’s Triassic

basins,” according to the budget.

McCrory said problems with coal ash had been neglected in North Carolina and he proposed 19 new positions to monitor the problem. Duke Energy’s management of its coal ash waste has been a major issue in North Carolina since a Feb. 2 spill not far from Eden. McCrory worked for Duke Energy most of his career.

McCrory also spoke, again, about the need to provide help for those suffering from substance abuse and addiction.

“We will provide more resources to educate and provide treatment for substance abuse and addiction,” he said.

“We need to help protect them. That includes enforcing the law but it also involves helping people who may be addicted. We want these people take advantage of the universities and schools in North Carolina.

“You can’t do that if you continue to destroy your brain.”

Other priorities for McCrory in the budget included:

· A pilot program linking historically black colleges to North Carolina-based companies;

· Continuing a tax credit that was set to sunset on investing in historic buildings;

· Moving the animal welfare section to the Department of Public Safety to better coordinate animal abuse such as puppy mills.

STATEMENTS ON McCRORY'S BUDGET

“We appreciate Gov. McCrory’s leadership in crafting a balanced budget proposal that prioritizes increasing teacher pay and developing our domestic energy sector without raising taxes. The Senate looks forward to reviewing the governor’s plan in greater detail as part of our appropriations process.”
_ Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger

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“The bottom line is that the budget shortfall and teacher pay crisis we’re facing were both created by Governor McCrory and the Republicans in the legislature. Last year, the governor chose to support plans to cut a half billion dollars from our schools and give massive handouts to the wealthy, out-of-state corporations and special interests. Governor McCrory took the hard-earned tax dollar of working people across North Carolina and just gave them away. Now he’s playing shell games with the money the state has left hoping voters will forget about the giveaways. It’s time for Governor McCrory to get his priorities in order and offer a real plan to raise teacher salaries to the national average. We stand ready to work with him on such a plan."

_ Democratic Senate leader Dan Blue

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"We appreciate Gov. McCrory’s commitment to provide pay raises for all state workers, including University faculty and employees. We also are grateful that he recognizes the importance of extending in-state tuition rates to our military-affiliated students, and his scholarship proposal for certain student veterans offers a starting point for discussion.

"North Carolina has a long history of strong support for the University of North Carolina. This budget proposal, however, calls for further reductions to the University’s budget. In the context of a growing economy where other states are re-investing in their public universities, this is an issue of competitiveness. To improve North Carolina’s economic position, attract new industry, and create needed new jobs, North Carolina must continue to maintain its strong public university system. We owe our students a high-quality education, and there is no great university without great faculty. This budget would make it increasingly hard for UNC campuses to recruit and retain the best and most accomplished faculty, as well as staff.

"The state now spends nearly $1,000 less per full-time-equivalent student than it did in 2007-08. While the University is operating more efficiently and has become more accountable, we have been forced to raise tuition in order to maintain the excellence for which we are known. While we will continue to search for additional efficiencies and savings, we cannot continue to shift the costs of higher education from the State to students and their families.

"The University of North Carolina has long been key to our State’s economic growth and way of life. The quality of this great asset must be preserved for future generations. We are committed to working with the Governor and the General Assembly throughout the budget process to meet state needs and address key University priorities."

_ UNC system president Tom Ross


"The governor’s budget irresponsibly jeopardizes North Carolina’s future economic prospects.

"There are two main reasons: it uses one-time money that won’t be there in years to come, and it makes cuts in key areas that are the building blocks of a strong economy.

"Self-inflicted revenue shortfalls resulting from the tax plan enacted last year mean fewer dollars to build a strong foundation for the state’s economy and improve the lives of all North Carolinians. The Governor’s use of one-time money and cuts to key areas, like higher education and health, are shortsighted and harmful to the state’s long-term stability and growth."

_ Alexander Sirota, director of the Budget and Tax Center




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