06/27/04 — Local legislators foresee slow budget talks

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Local legislators foresee slow budget talks

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on June 27, 2004 2:05 AM

Local legislators hope but are not optimistic that the state budget will be completed this week.

N.C. Sen. John Kerr of Goldsboro was among a group of legislators that was working Friday and Saturday to resolve differences between the Senate and the House versions of the 2004-05 budget.

Other area legislators on the committee are Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston and Sen. Charles Albertson of Duplin County.

The budget conferees want to complete a compromise budget and have it passed before Thursday, the beginning of the fiscal year.

But did Kerr believe it was possible?

"No," he said Friday. "There's a lot of things we need to hammer out."

And a lot of those details will have a big bearing on Wayne County and the surrounding region, our delegation said.

For example, the House budget would give state employees a $1,000 across-the-board raise. The Senate version would give a $1,000 raise to all employees making less than $38,000 a year; everyone making more would receive a 2.5 percent raise.

Rep. Larry Bell of Sampson County noted that the Senate's version would cost the state much more, particularly in pay to people making $100,000 or more. "I don't know how they're going to resolve that in conference," he said Friday.

Kerr noted that teachers would also receive a 2.5 percent raise. But neither budget gives employees the raises they deserve, he added.

Sen. Tony Moore of Pitt County said the state could afford better raises if the budgets didn't contain new unnecessary spending.

"Whether it's the House or the Senate version, a billion in spending was added. They essentially raised taxes after the November elections," said Moore, who voted against the Senate budget. "Before we passed pork-barrel (projects), we should have given state employees and teachers a decent raise. State employees have not had a real raise in three years."

Another difference in the budgets is the Senate version includes $1.6 million for the Global TransPark while the House version cuts the GTP funding completely, Kerr said.

The Senate would add money to pay for promotion of Civil War tourism, potentially a great draw for Wayne County, he said.

The final budget may or may not include $38 million for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to purchase land around the state's military bases, Kerr said. Wayne County and Goldsboro have been seeking $1.7 million from the trust fund to buy land off the northern end of the runway.

The House budget would reduce the classroom size in the third grade to one teacher per 18 students. The Senate's goal is one teacher per 20 students.

Rep. Bell said that he supports smaller class sizes but must concedethat the Senate's version is more realistic. The House budget "would require us to hire more teachers that we don't have and add more classrooms that we don't have," he said.