State Budget Is Unrealistic, Blake Says
By florence gilkeson
The $18.9 billion budget passed by the state Senate last week received little support from the Republican side of the aisle. It's likely House Republicans won't show much support either.
State Sen. Harris Blake, the Pinehurst Republican representing Moore and Harnett counties, says the budget comes down hard on public education and fails to address financial issues looming for the 2011 budget year.
"It's a lean budget," Blake said Friday.
Blake voted against the Senate version, which he says was put together by the Senate Democratic leadership through the committee system. He approves of the committee system but doesn't like the outcome of the budget. Blake serves on both the Appropriations and the Finance committees.
"The tragedy is that we didn't deal with what's really out there," he said.
That tragedy, according to Blake, centers on $1.5 billion in vital programs that do not show up in the Senate budget. This is the amount of federal stimulus funds used to balance the budget this year, money that won't be available in future budgets.
"Unless there's a miracle, we'll have to deal with it next year," he said.
Blake says it is unlikely that the state economy will improve sufficiently in the coming year to offset the losses leading to the massive revenue shortfall resulting from the recessionary economy.
Public Schools Cut
Although the state university system made it through the Senate budget without major damage, the public schools did not fare quite so well and received a 1.4 percent cut in total budget funds.
"It looks like the secretary of education got the worst of the deal," Blake said.
Blake and state Rep. Jamie Boles, the other Republican serving Moore County, join GOP legislative leaders who were loud in their objections to the budget produced by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.
Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger released a statement Thursday in which he called attention to $219 million in cuts to K-12 education. He points out that the budget contains $20 million to extend funding for prisoner tuition through the community college system.
"While it remains to be seen whether this budget will protect teachers, there is no doubt that it will have a detrimental effect on students and classrooms. Cutting classrooms while extending funding for prisoner education is wrong," Berger said. "This kind of decision arises from a flawed process that results in Democratic budget writers being out of touch with the needs of our state. Until we build a budget from zero, justifying every dollar spent, we will never have a budget that truly reflects the priorities of our people."
From state House Republican Leader Paul Stam came a news release equally critical of the treatment accorded to charter schools in both the Senate budget and the budget submitted earlier this spring by Gov. Bev Perdue.
Stam says the budget seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in "Race to the Top" federal stimulus funds. The GOP leader says treatment of charter schools is a priority factor in selecting "Race to the Top" funds, which are competitive, but the state's budgets thus far shortchange charter schools.
North Carolina limits the number of charter schools across the state to 100.
Stam says many charter schools turn away applicants because they lack space to accommodate all the interested students. He charges in his -statement that charter schools are public schools that "are -treated as second class citizens" and are denied equal state support.
The budget adopted by the Senate is now in the hands of the House, which will begin work on the measure Monday. Once the House tweaks the Senate version, the budget bill goes back to the Senate for concurrence and votes by both chambers.
The new budget is supposed to be in place by July 1, but the General Assembly does not always reach agreement by that deadline. When the deadline is missed, lawmakers pass continuing resolutions retaining the existing budget until the new one passes both houses and is signed by the governor.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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