04/09/09 — Local senators split their budget votes

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Local senators split their budget votes

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 9, 2009 1:46 PM

Voting by Wayne County's state senators on their chamber's proposed budget was split along party lines -- Don Davis, D-Greene, voting yes, and David Rouzer, R-Johnston, voting no.

However, Davis said his affirmative vote wasn't an easy one to cast.

"I supported it," he said. "But we made some tough decisions. I wouldn't say that it is better than the (governor's), but that we're all doing some deep soul searching and doing everything we can to work through this."

He explained that in the budget, despite plans to cut or hold vacant more than 1,600 state jobs, and the potential loss of about 6,000 teaching positions due to increased class sizes, he felt they had done the best they could. And he noted that the class size adjustment would be a temporary one.

"I look at it as protecting jobs," he said. "You're going to see some workers lose their jobs, but we're protecting as many jobs as possible. By not doing this how many more would you potentially lose?"

He added he is also still trying to protect positions at Cherry Hospital, where one unit was closed after an investigation by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and another slated for closure in the budget.

He explained that the state's plan is for local hospitals like Wayne Memorial to pick up that slack, but that he doesn't believe that infrastructure is in place yet, and that an amendment he offered would slow that process while keeping permanent positions.

"What I'm saying is don't just eliminate this unit," he said. "We really need to try to make this a smooth transition, while protecting as many permanent positions as possible and evaluating along the way."

That amendment, however, was not included in the Senate's budget.

However, he said, "I've been assured by the leadership that this will come up in conference committee (once the House passes its version)."

Other details also are expected to be worked out in conference committee, he said -- most notably the $1 billion tax adjustment place holder included in the Senate's version, expected to be for alcohol and cigarette tax increases and new taxes on services.

"That was included just to get the budget through," Davis said. "We'll work it out with the House in conference."

However, that was just one of the reasons Rouzer voted against the spending proposal.

"We don't know what that is yet," he said.

The other reason for opposing the budget, he continued, is because the Democrats' plan would actually increase spending.

He explained that while approximately $21.4 billion was budgeted for 2008-09, the recent budget cuts by former Gov. Mike Easley and Gov. Beverly Perdue have resulted in an actual projected expense of $20.3 billion, which is less than the spending plan being discussed, which would total about $20.9 billion once the expected federal stimulus Medicaid assistance is included -- something he said Democrats are currently not doing.

"That's why we say the spending is increasing," Rouzer said. "The other side is looking at what was budgeted. We're looking at what we're actually spending."

And so, he said, while the Senate's version is more palatable than the governor's proposal, it still doesn't go far enough.

"I think it's an improvement over the governor's proposal," he said. "The cuts are spread out a little more evenly over more categories. I think the Senate did a better job of going after the bureaucracy.

"But on the whole, when families are reducing their spending, we need to do the same."