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North Carolina Senate Begins Discussing $20.6 Billion Spending Plan

Republicans in the North Carolina Senate have proposed a $20.6 billion budget for next year.  That’s essentially the same size as Governor Pat McCrory’s proposal. Spending in major categories would be mostly flat except for health and human services and natural and economic resources.  However, Medicaid spending would grow 11 percent compared to this year. 

The Senate’s Plan For Education

Senate Republicans are pushing for an education budget of about $11.5 billion.  That’s a small increase from the current budget and essentially the same amount Governor Pat McCrory set aside for schools and higher education in his proposal. 

The Senate plan does not include a tuition increase for colleges, but it does include a slight one for community colleges.  That would amount to a couple dollars per credit hour. 

Unlike McCrory’s budget, there are no pay raises for state employees.  However, Senator Neal Hunt of Wake County says teachers who fare well on evaluations could see a bump in their salaries next year.  The Senate set aside about $10 million for that in the second year of the budget plan.  

“The difficulty in doing merit-pay across the board is: how do you measure it?  It’s very subjective.  So we think we have ways to quantify teacher performance.  We can use this $10 million to target the best teachers,” says Hunt. 

State lawmakers have asked school districts for merit-pay proposals.  They were due earlier this year.  Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools is still working on one.  The state has also set aside $1 million to study a merit pay system that could be applied to all state employees.   

The Senate’s plan also eliminates tenure for teachers and includes money to pay for more Teach For America teachers. 

Plan Would Shift Oversight Of State Bureau of Investigation

Senate Republicans want to shift the State Bureau of Investigation from the oversight of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper to an agency under the Governor’s authority.  Senator Harry Brown says it’s common sense to consolidate all law enforcement under the Department of Public Safety. 

“It simply does not make sense for our state’s top attorney to supervise the SBI, just like it wouldn’t make sense for your local district attorney to supervise your sheriffs or police,” says Brown. 

Cooper opposes moving the investigative unit from his department to one headed by an appointee of McCrory.  He argues the move could inject politics into corruption investigations by jeopardizing the agency’s independence. 

Under the plan, internal corruption cases would still be investigated by Cooper’s office.  But Cooper says that would still cripple those investigations because they usually include agents from several areas of the SBI.  

State sheriff and police chief associations also oppose the change. 

The House expects to release its spending plan in the coming weeks.