03/24/13 — Legislators talk on governor's budget

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Legislators talk on governor's budget

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 24, 2013 1:50 AM

Speaking after the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce's legislative breakfast event Friday, the county's three Republican legislators gave their thoughts on Gov. Pat McCrory's $20.6 billion budget -- including the two line items that targeted Wayne County specifically.

Those are the proposed closure of the adult male medium security Wayne Correctional Center and the proposal to put the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace into a dormant status.

"We knew going into this session we were going to have to make tough choices, but you never like to look at a budget and see your county on the list of cuts," Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne said. "We're going to look at those. We're going to step back and look at the budget as a whole and where Wayne County falls, but we're going to fight for those."

Those sentiments were echoed by his fellow legislators Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, and Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne.

The desire to fight the cuts is especially strong over the Aycock Birthplace because of the role it plays in Wayne County's history. Pate did note, however, that if the prison facility is closed, it might be offered to the county for use as a much-needed jail.

Overall, though, there were few areas where the legislators, who had just seen the budget proposal on Thursday, took exception to the governor's proposal -- even as they acknowledged the final version is likely to look fairly different.

"We're 50 people (in the Senate) of different backgrounds from all over the state," Pate said. "With another 120 people in the House, the final version is going to look different. But this is a good starting point."

The Senate will next take on the responsibility of crafting the General Assembly's proposal, a task they hope to have done by mid-May in order to allow a budget to be approved in June.

"If we can leave Raleigh by mid-June, that would be unprecedented for a short session," Pate said.

Among the other line items that might be cause for discussion, though, the legislators, said, are ones calling for $400 million to go to the state's rainy day fund and $10 million to go to victims of the state's sterilization program in the 1970s.

In terms of the former, all agreed that it is a good thing for the state to be putting money aside in reserves. However, Bell noted, when it comes to closing such facilities as the Aycock Birthplace and the Wayne Correctional Center, as well as cutting the budget of the N.C. Rural Center, perhaps some of those reserve funds could be diverted for other purposes.

Similarly, Pate and Bell said, they do not support spending money on the eugenics victims when there are so many other needs in the budget.

"I'm sorry that situation happened and I feel for the victims and their families, but I don't support that. I think we can use that $10 million in other places," Bell said.

"The state imposed that procedure on them years ago, and I am sorry the state did that. But I don't think that we, today, have the fiscal responsibility to pay them back. No amount of money can repair what happened to them," Pate agreed.

For his part, Dixon said that while he supported the measure last year out of deference to the House leadership, his continued support would depend on where the funds were coming from.

But, Dixon said, there are some bright spots in the budget, including the lack of a tax increase, the decrease in per capita spending, and the 1 percent raise for state employees and teachers and 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment in the pensions of state retirees.