GOP Legislators Call State Budget 'Irresponsible'
North Carolina's $18.9 billion budget contains a few positive points, but overall Moore County's two Republican legislators regard it as "irresponsible."
State Rep. Jamie Boles admits that the budget contains items he strongly supports but says that was not enough for him to vote for it. He joined the Republican side of the House (and the Senate) in opposing the budget finally adopted by a conference committee named to reconcile differences between the versions approved by the two chambers.
"We're already in the hole for next year," Boles said in a Friday interview. "The fiscal irresponsibility is reliance on one-time federal money. This is a structural deficit to the citizens of North Carolina."
Boles cites three reasons why he voted against the budget: it's not balanced, it's not fiscally responsible, and it relies on $519 million in federal Medicaid payments that may not materialize.
And that's not all he doesn't like.
Boles says the budget is only superficially balanced because it uses $1.6 billion in federal money that will not be available next year. He also does not like the use of education lottery funds to pay teachers' salaries in the coming year because this is not the purpose for which the lottery was established.
State Sen. Harris Blake was on an official trip to China during much of the final budget work and did not vote on the budget approved by the conference committee. However, Blake says he would have joined other GOP lawmakers in voting against the budget had he been here.
"I knew what was going on, but I was authorized on leave during that time," Blake said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. "I would have voted against it if I had been here.
"Our budget this time was tough, and unless we get a big turnaround in the economy, we're not getting enough revenue to pay for everything we need. Next year will be even tougher and it will affect all of us."
Both legislators complained that GOP members were shut out of the final deliberations, with no Republicans named to the conference committee from either chamber.
Out of eight recommendations proposed by Republicans, only two were enacted, and Boles is critical of innumerable points in the final budget.
"Instead of being responsible about the budget, they're just shifting money around," Boles said.
Among his complaints is what he calls unfair treatment of charter schools in allocation of lottery proceeds. He says charter schools, which are also public schools, are not receiving their share of per pupil current expense allocations or their share of capital funds from the lottery.
Cuts to Medicaid providers, such as hospitals and doctors, could be devastating, according to Boles.
One thing that he does agree with is the decision to apply millions in unclaimed lottery prize money to the budget if the federal Medicaid payment does not come through.
"I don't have a problem with taking unclaimed lottery money and using it for teachers, but not when they discriminate against one portion of the public schools," Boles said. "I guess that's one reason I had heartburn about the lottery money."
Boles approved at least three items covered by the budget: preservation of Samarkand Youth Development Center at Eagle Springs; preservation of Sentencing Services, a program that gives judges discretion in sentencing qualified defendants who may benefit from alternative treatment while saving the state money; and strengthening of the Medicaid fraud investigation program.
Samarkand has both historic and economic significance to Moore County. Sentencing Services is a program enthusiastically supported by District Attorney Maureen Krueger.
The boost in Medicaid fraud investigations adds $600,000 to the budget and creates 25 position s. It is estimated that for every dollar spent on such investigations, the state can expect to regain $5 or $6 in prevention of fraud.
"It should more than pay for itself," Boles said.
The economic recession resulted in an $800 million revenue shortfall this year, forcing lawmakers to deduct funds to cover that loss. The budget contains a contingency plan in case the federal Medicaid payment falls through, although several provisions are unpopular, including reduction of Medicaid provider payments and a raid on the state retirement fund.
However, the budget was adopted by the legislature and signed by the governor in time for the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1.
That was the first time the legislature had adopted a budget on time since 1993.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at florence@thepilot. com.
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