05/08/07 — Local lawmakers react to proposed House budget

View Archive

Local lawmakers react to proposed House budget

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 8, 2007 1:54 PM

As they begin to digest the hundreds of pages making up the 2007-08 budget, most members of Wayne County's state delegation say they're comfortable with most aspects of the $20.3 billion spending plan, including the extension of two temporary taxes that were set to expire next year.

Expected to raise $300 million next year, the two taxes are being kept in place to help fund education and health care programs, House Democrats said.

"I wish we could have taken them off, but if we had, we would have been looking in other places to find some money," Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, said.

The General Assembly had begun phasing them out last year, but this year's plan would halt that process and keep the taxes on the books for another two years.

"At the time they were approved we said they were temporary," Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, said. "I'm sorry we said that, because it appears we still need them."

Republicans disagree.

"I'm not in favor of those. It's time to make them history," said Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, adding that there are areas that could be cut. "If the budget comes to the floor in its current form, Iwould not be favor of it."

Senate leaders also have indicated they will not support the continuation of the two taxes.

But the House's proposal also provides for several tax breaks and credits for small businesses, military reserv-ists and their employers, people who adopt children and companies that hire workers who have been on welfare. It also would create a reserve that would ultimately phase out energy taxes for manufacturers and farmers.

In addition, it would create an earned-income tax credit, which would reduce tax bills or provide cash payments to low-income families who file income taxes.

"Overall, I think the financing side was pretty good," Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, said.

On the spending side, the budget also focuses heavily on education, with more than 50 percent going to public schools, community colleges and state universities. The plan would increase spending for the governor's Learn and Earn high school programs, the pre-school More at Four program and others designed to reduce the drop-out rate.

In terms of salaries, the plan does include a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and community college faculty and a 2.5 percent increase for other state employees and university workers.

Most important, though, Braxton said, was the $60 million included for Medicaid relief for the counties.

Divided into two $30 million pots, the first would be divided up among those counties with Medicaid rolls of at least 25 percent of the population.

The rest of the money would be split between all 100 counties. Under the plan, Wayne, which is projected to spend $8.2 million on Medicaid in 2007-08, would receive only $477,000.

"That's not a lot of help for them," Braxton said. "This is not enough, but it is a good start."

But, he continued, as the budget is debated more this week in the Finance and Appropriations committees before two required floor votes, there might be some changes -- and even more once the Senate gets hold of it.

"This is just the first draft. I think it's a good starting point, but the final budget may not look anything like this one," Braxton said.

But Bell, who also serves as a House Majority Whip, said with budget mirroring the governor's fairly closely, he doesn't expect there to be much difficulty in getting it approved.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.