senate_budgetRALEIGH—The state Senate is pushing its budget proposal forward.

The two-year North Carolina government budget proposed by Senate Republicans is one of the longest in recent memory, full of policy changes that contrasts with GOP declarations that the proposal is fiscally lean.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday for a spending proposal that would spend $21.5 billion next year, less than 2 percent higher than the current year.

“I do understand that they have flexibility, but I also understand the limited dollars don’t give you a whole lot as well,” said Sen. Gladys Robsinon, a Guilford County Democrat.

Lawmakers were given an opportunity to raise questions about the document, many of which centered around the area of cuts to funding for teaching assistants.

Even though it could equate to thousands of fewer assistants, budget writers say local school districts can still fund the positions.

“It doesn’t really cut positions, they can still fund as many positions as they want. but they have fewer dollars per student to do it,” said Sen. Dan Soucek, a Watauga County Republican.

After questions were answered, legislators were given their first opportunity to offer changes to the plan. In appropriations, a handful were considered and approved—including one that would remove the requirement for new drivers to take driver’s education; which the Senate plan stops funding during the next budget cycle.

“It would instead change the score for passage, raise that to 85 and would add 25 additional hours driving with parents or guardians, 60 to 85 before you could move up in the graduated license,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a McDowell County Republican.

Another amendment went through, but with substantial debate. It is simply asking for a study of student graduation timelines in the UNC system. But some say parts of what is to be look at in the study is concerning.

“In some studies it shows that students with lower than a 3.0 may have a more difficult time in graduating, maybe they need to go to an alternative to the four year schools, maybe look at a community college,” said Sen. Andrew Brock, a Rowan County Republican.

Changes were made, the bill was voted on, and moved to the next committee. The finance and pensions and retirement committees moved along more quickly.

With no amendments allowed, but there were questions and comments on some of the key areas of the bill.

More amendments will be allowed to be offered when the budget bill is heard on the floor on Wednesday.

– Loretta Boniti