06/08/08 — Senate will get its say on 2008-09 money plan

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Senate will get its say on 2008-09 money plan

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 8, 2008 2:05 AM

With the state House having passed its $21.3 million 2008-09 budget proposal last week, the spending plan will now go before the state Senate where Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, expects only a few changes to be made.

"I think we're pretty close," he said, noting the improved relationship between the House and the Senate. "I think there are going to be some changes. There are just a lot of details to work out.

"They've got kind of a bare-bones situation, but I feel like we're going to be very close on this. It's kind of like a dance."

Among those changes, he explained, are likely to be more funding for education, universities, health care and -- his priority -- water and sewer.

"The Senate is probably going to be a little more concerned about those things," he said.

He is not sure, though, whether or not the Senate will come closer to Gov. Mike Easley's 7 percent pay increase for teachers than the House, which gave only 3 percent. Like many of the state representatives, he, too, acknowledged the need to balance their salaries with other state employees.

He is also not sure whether there will be enough money left over to fund a $3 million request for the long-proposed Wayne County Regional Agricultural Center.

"Not without spending more money," he said. "If the county would get together on this thing, I think it could be worked out, but right now it's tough."

Kerr did say, however, that the one thing he is confident about is that the tax increases Easley wanted on alcohol and cigarettes are not likely to be included in any budget discussion -- especially not after they were emphatically rejected by the House.

"I think you can make an argument both ways, but I don't believe we will go for those," he said.

Currently the House budget offers only a 3 percent increase in spending.

"The needs are tough," Kerr said. "I think it's going to be a tight budget. I'm going to be disappointed, but the money's just short."

Over in the House, with budget discussion dominating the week, little other legislation was discussed.

However, two issues that were introduced were study bills for the state's agricultural research stations and for rail and infrastructure.

On the former, Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, explained that the bill is a compromise between the state Department of Agriculture and state university system, which had talked about selling off some of the farms.

"There was no support at all for that," he said. "Instead, I think the study bill now is looking for ways to make the research farms more efficient (by raising revenues and cutting costs). People are very supportive of what the research stations do."

And on the latter issue, Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, explained that while that particular bill focuses mostly on the western parts of the state and their efforts to create and inland port, the east's needs, including the sea ports will likely be looked at in more detail later.

"They are sort of different structures. They have a different set of problems in the west than we do in the east," he said.