House, Senate Trade Budget Proposals for State Spending Plan

RALEIGH — The struggle to finalize a state spending plan continues.

The House and Senate traded budget proposals on Thursday, a day after tense public negotiations showed little progress forward.

The two sides haven’t inched much closer, and now the governor is threatening a veto of one of the plans.

“We are willing to continue to discuss proposals, but as long as one basically says this is off the table, I don’t think that we’ve got a whole lot that we can be talking about,” said Berger.

State senators say frustration is setting in over the lack of movement on the budget negotiations, pointing the finger for the pace at the House saying they have been open to compromise.

“Each time that we’ve done that, the House has come back and pretty much told us that we cannot do this, we cannot do this, we cannot do this, and have made very few compromises in their proposal,” said Brown.

The House says it is willing to talk but says the Senate is being unrealistic with its ongoing assertion that teacher pay raises should be given at an average of 11 percent.

“And how you do not sacrifice classroom resources in order to have a larger raise? If it was a matter of having all those additional dollars, it might be a different discussion, but the Senate is using existing teaching assistants in the classroom, classroom resources, taking away those classroom resources in order to fund their pay increase,” said Dollar.

The governor is now taking sides.

He released a statement saying:

“I will veto the latest Senate plan or any plan that resembles it because I know of no financial way we can go beyond the House proposal without eliminating thousands of teacher assistants, cutting Medicaid recipients and putting at risk future core state services.”

He went on to say:

“The Senate is currently standing by themselves with no visible support outside of the beltline of our state capital.”

The House says it wants to get back to work on the negotiating on Friday morning.

“We invite all members of the General Assembly in the House and the Senate to attend,” said Dollar.

But senators say don’t expect them to be present.

“I don’t know that the Senate will be at that meeting tomorrow,” said Berger.

The House proposal put forward on Thursday increased their proposed teacher pay raise to six percent.

The Senate proposal remains at 11 percent with money made available that could go toward teacher assistants.

– Loretta Boniti

McCrory Signs Bill Authorizing Improvements at UNC Schools

RALEIGH–Gov. Pat McCrory has signed a bill authorizing approximately $376 million of improvements for six schools in the University of North Carolina system.

A statement from the governor’s office says the money for the improvements will come from various fees, receipts, grants and fund raising income and not from tuition or taxpayer money.

The money will be split by East Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State, UNC-Asheville, Western Carolina, and UNC-Charlotte.

Gov. McCrory said the projects will create jobs and help improve learning and living conditions for students.

Gov. McCrory: “We have got the best team in the United States”

RALEIGH–Governor McCrory wants North Carolinians to be prepared for Arthur’s impact.

The governor held a news conference Thursday morning in Raleigh, as the first bands of the hurricane started to reach the NC coast. He once again urged people not to put on their stupid hats and be ready for power outages and possible flooding.

McCrory also reassured residents and visitors the state is ready to handle whatever Arthur may bring.

“We are also letting you know that we are prepared. We have got the best team in the United States in preparing for emergencies. We proved it during the ice storms and we are going to prove it again during this hurricane,” said Gov. McCrory.

The governor also encouraged people to download the Ready NC App for the latest information from the state on the storm and emergency response.

Gov. McCrory Signs Marijuana Oil Bill to Treat Seizures Into Law

RALEIGH— On Thursday morning, Gov. McCrory signed a bill known as “Hope for Haley and Friends” into law.

The legislation will allow some physicians to treat children in NC who have severe seizure disorders using an extract from a marijuana plant help

The governor was all smiles as he met some of the kids who he hopes to help with the new law, watching on were families who celebrated and shed a few tears.

“This action will ease the suffering for children suffering from a rare disorder and this gives them some relief,” said Gov. McCrory.

Under the law, CBD oil will now be available to the kids most in need. The oil is an extract of the hemp plant and contains very little of the properties associated with marijuana. It has shown promise in Colorado in helping to dramatically decrease seizures in kids.

The lawmakers who sponsored this legislation said she hopes to see the same success in North Carolina.

“If anything can help these children have a happy, healthy life, what a better piece of legislation? I don’t know of one out there,” said Rep. Pat McElraft.

The legislation is named for Haley Ward, 6, of Newport who lives with intractable seizures. The seizures are also sometimes known as “uncontrolled” or “refractory, because they fail to come under control with medical treatment.

Haley’s mother said that after six years of daily struggles and seizures she can’t believe there is now a new option for Haley and other kids who are fighting for their lives.

“Its awesome to know that something that is showing no side effects is going to come our way. Whether it works or not, we are going to try and that’s all we ask is a chance to try it,” said mother, Sherena Ward.

The Department of Health and Human Services has until October to set up the guidelines for how this oil will be distributed. For these families, it is a deadline that can’t come soon enough.

Right now, the extract is only being developed in Colorado but the FDA is set to begin its own study of the oil. It will be administered by several North Carolina research hospitals.

– Loretta Boniti

Gov. McCrory, NC Doctors Discuss Medicaid Reform

RALEIGH—Medicaid reform and expansion was the main topic of discussion on Wednesday as advocates want to see more state money put into the program

Adam O’Neal, a Republican mayor of Belhaven, N.C., joined a coalition of advocates asking lawmakers to reconsider a decision last year to deny funds through the Affordable Care Act to expand the program

The group took their message to Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, delivering over 25,000 petitions to his office asking for the change.

As part of White Coat Wednesday, the governor sat down with physicians with the NC Medical Society to discuss the effort by his administration to reform Medicaid.

The plan was ignored by the Senate in the budget proposal it just approved.

“I welcome any other detailed plans which are presented that do better than this. And where we understand all the ramifications. But right now this is the plan on the table and it is time for that plan to be discussed and voted on,” said Gov. McCrory.

For physicians who met with the governor, they say cuts to Medicaid that are currently on the table could hurt not only patients, but doctors as well.

“If you make it tougher for them to do their jobs they are going to be forced to quit taking Medicaid patients because they lose money and you’ve got to at least break even to run a medical practice,” said Bill Dennis with the NC Academy of Family Physicians.

For supporters of more Medicaid for the state, they urge legislative leaders to consider its benefits.

“It is important for employment. It is important for revenue for our budget. It is important for the citizens of North Carolina,” said Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham County Democrat.

The state House is currently working on its budget proposal. Lawmakers have not indicated any softening of their stance to not accept Medicaid funding from the federal government.

– Loretta Boniti

Gov. McCrory Signs Fracking Bill Into Law

RALEIGH—Gov. McCrory signed the Energy Modernization Act into law on Wednesday, a day he said has been at least five years in the making.

He was surrounded by pro-energy lawmakers who crafted the legislation, along with the secretary of commerce and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The governor said the law will protect land owners and has a severance tax that ensures the state benefits from the industry. Gov. McCrory said the state will move forward and conduct testing to see what resources are below the ground.

“Have good processes in place to unleash the resources that are available to create jobs, create energy independence and also introduce more clean energy to North Carolina’s manufacturing and other businesses that need this type of energy to meet the peek demands of the energy sector,” said Gov. McCrory.

The fracking bill allows the state to begin issuing permits to drilling companies on the 61st day after the General Assembly approves the rules to govern the industry, which could be as soon as May 2015.

Gov. McCrory Voices Concerns About Senate Budget Plan

RALEIGH—Governor Pat McCrory is voicing some concerns about the Senate’s brand new $21 billion spending plan proposal.

He is planning to speak with House leaders as they draft up their version this week.

Right now the House is drafting a spending plan proposal after the Senate approved its plan last week.

The Senate plan calls for an average of 11 percent pay increase for teachers, but a teacher must give up teacher tenure to get the raise.

It also puts almost $200 million more into Medicaid spending, but readjusts criteria to meet more stringent federal standards, ultimately cutting the number of people who can receive medicaid.

“We have some very serious concerns especially for those people who have no alternatives, especially in regards to medicaid and quality of service issues. We have very serious concerns about parts of the budget including education, information systems and DENR,” said Gov. McCrory.

Also, the controversial fracking bill is on his desk right now awaiting a signature despite his plans to sign it into law early in the week. He said it will happen before the week’s end.

“We’ve got some very good rules and standards in place which are comparable and better than other states that have good records in gas exploration,” said McCrory.

The governor said he will continue to fight for his $21 billion budget proposal that includes raises to state employees, but comes with cuts to various departments including the entire UNC school system.

The House version of the budget is expected to come out next week.

– Linnie Supall

State lawmakers get first look at McCrory’s proposed budget

RALEIGH — State lawmakers got their first detailed look at Gov. Pat McCrory’s $21 billion budget proposal on Thursday.

Provisions to teacher pay and education spending were just some of the big topics at the forefront of discussion.

The governor wants the UNC system to cut 2 percent, about $44 million, from the budget.

“Higher education has taken many cuts in the last three years we don’t need to cut further in the area of education,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham County Democrat.

Critics said cuts to education funding are a set back to North Carolina’s future and a more efficient system could be the answer.

Leaders with the community college system said efficiency paved the way for a promising year ahead. They are reinvesting funds leftover from a reduction in remedial course enrollment.

A reinvestment of $16.8 million will back programs targeted at closing the skills gap.

“Previously we would have needed funding to support developmental education. Our faculty redesigned the process to be more efficient and we can now use those resources to help support higher cost health care and technical education programs,” said Scott Ralls, NC Community College System president.

The budget also calls for a $1,000 salary bump for community college employees. However, challenges still remain.

“When you can make more money doing a job than teaching to do a job then we struggle to hold on to our valuable teachers,” said Ralls.

The proposed budget also waives the fee for participation in the apprenticeship program for community college students. It also allows military veterans who live in North Carolina to pay in-state tuition without a “one year wait period” for residency status.

– Linnie Supall

Governor’s proposed budget raises teacher pay, calls for Medicaid reform

Read the governor’s proposed budget here.

Gov. Pat McCrory is sending a $20.99 billion proposal with pay increases for teachers and state employees.

That’s 1.7 percent above the budget the General Assembly approved last year.

The budget proposal comes in the face of a nearly-$450 million budget shortfall. At the press conference today, State Budget Director Art Pope said they were able to budget for the pay raises, despite the shortfall, because the state didn’t spend all its money.

The governor said legislative budget writers have been appraised of his proposal.

“Nothing should comes a surprise in this budget,” McCrory said.

McCrory also said the legislature needs to take up Medicaid reform during the short session. McCrory and DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos will be touting Medicaid reform around the state, getting “outside the beltline,” he said.

“We have no choice,” he said. “We don’t know what the shortfall may be next year. The longer we wait, the more difficulty we will have.”

Some of the budget details include:

  • Increasing base teacher salary to $35,000 a year
  • Boost teacher pay by an average of two to four percent
  • Restores teacher supplemental pay for masters degrees
  • Boosts pre-kindergarten education by $3.6 million
  • Gives state employees a flat $1,000 pay raise
  • Targeted pay increases for highway patrol officers, magistrates, and clerks of court
  • Creates a pilot program for historically black colleges and universities to match students with paid internships
  • Adds $43 million to Highway Fund for road maintenance
  • Adds 19 positions for coal ash inspectors and money fro field lab equipment for coal ash monitoring

In addition to using cost savings to offset the budget shortfall, state agencies are cutting back operating expenses by two percent, and sets aside $100 million into the state’s rainy day fund.

The UNC system and health and human services bear the brunt of the cuts — with $49 million and $122 million, respectively.

Pope said about $7 million of the decrease to the UNC system came from decreased enrollment,  and the rest coming from eliminating academic centers related to degree-awarding programs and other cuts.

Pope said spending from FY2013-14 to FY2014-15 would rise less than a percent if this budget is approved.

McCrory said he hoped the budget was a good framework that the legislature “won’t throw out and start from scratch.”

“They have a tough job to do,” McCrory said.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said in a statement that he supports pay raises for teacher pay.

“As a result of tightening the budget earlier this year, we remain confident that we will be able to move forward with legislative priorities including state employee and teacher raises,” Tillis said.

Legislative Democrats said Monday that McCrory’s teacher pay plan doesn’t go far enough. They are calling on raising teacher pay to the national average in the next four years.

– Ben McNeely

Gov. McCrory announces substance abuse task force

GREENVILLE — Gov. Pat McCrory announced a new statewide initiative on substance abuse and underage drinking in North Carolina by signing an executive order to form a Substance Abuse Task Force.

The governor said keeping people from falling victim to substance abuse and addiction is very important to him.

McCrory and several of his aides addressed the issue during a news conference at East Carolina University Tuesday afternoon in the Mendenhall Student Center.