05/10/10 — Legislators will be back in session Wednesday

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Legislators will be back in session Wednesday

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 10, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County's legislators will return to Raleigh Wednesday hoping -- and expecting -- to approve a 2010-11 budget and then quickly adjourn to come home.

"I think it's going to be the budget and get out. Everybody's on a pretty fast schedule," Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, said.

Already Gov. Beverly Perdue has introduced her $19 billion budget proposal, which featured about $1 billion in spending cuts, and Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, said it's the Senate's goal to have the budget to the House by May 21.

Of course, even then, Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, said, it's still going to take some time to reconcile the Senate version with the House version and the governor's version.

"Some of it (the governor's budget) was good. Some of it was bad. Her budget is just one leg of a three-legged stool," he said.

For his part, Braxton said he will be watching to make sure cuts are being dispersed as equally across the board as possible. Already, he explained, some areas like mental health have already taken more than their fair share, while others, like the university system, might have to give up a little more than they have in the past.

Bell also said that while it's important to continue funding critical areas like education, he is not sure the governor's proposal to restore some of the salary impacts from last year will make it through the process -- that the General Assembly might need that money for other areas.

His biggest goal, he said, is to avoid laying off as many people as possible.

"I think we'll be trying to keep everybody who's working now in their jobs," he said.

However, even though some like Davis and Braxton praised the governor for her efforts to eliminate waste and inefficiencies in the budget, others on the Republican side were still critical of the process.

Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, said he was pleased to see the governor looking at budget cuts, but that he is still concerned about the reliance on stimulus money for continuing expenses.

"We're using stimulus money to prop up the budget again, and next year we won't have that," he said.

And so instead of making budget cuts here and there, Sen. David Rouzer, R-Wayne, said he thinks the General Assembly should take advantage of this downturn to dramatically change the way government operates.

"I think it (the governor's proposal) is a short-term approach that needs to be revisited," he said. "We're not doing anybody any justice. We need to do it in a responsible and efficient way."

However, he also admitted that any dramatic changes are likely to wait until the 2011 session, when he anticipates the state to still be in a tough economic situation.

Other legislative initiatives also are likely to wait until 2011, including action on new tax structures and annexation, just to name a few, as each legislator said the General Assembly's leadership has instructed them to not bring up any controversial bills other than the budget.

"The leadership has said we'll be out by the Fourth of July," Sager said. "Of course I've heard that before, but I do hope we get out of there."

Besides, Davis said, passing a budget will be hard enough.

"We're not out of these tough economic times yet. Families are still having to watch their budget, and legislators are going to have to watch the state's budget as well," he said. "I think we're going to pass a budget and get out of there. The longer we're up there the more it costs the taxpayers."