Tax plan restores some budget cuts
Posted: Today at 3:38 p.m.
Updated: 16 minutes ago
RALEIGH, N.C. — As legislative leaders tried to hammer out a final budget proposal Friday, they agreed not to increase class sizes through the sixth grade and to keep schools for the deaf and blind open.
After cobbling together a plan Thursday to raise $990 million in new taxes over the next year, lawmakers began restoring some previous cuts to the state budget. Top budget negotiators said they expected to have a final spending plan in place by late Friday, meaning it could be voted on next week.
Previous proposals called for increasing the average class size in public schools by two or three students, eliminating thousands of teaching jobs. Lawmakers said Friday they would hold the line on classes from kindergarten through sixth grade, but local school districts would have to make cuts in grades 7 through 12 to make up for lower revenue.
Lawmakers also agreed to keep open the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh and schools for the deaf in Wilson and Morganton. Parents of students at the schools rallied against earlier plans to close one or two of the three.
The Wright and Whitaker schools for emotionally and psychologically challenged children also would remain open under the budget plan, lawmakers said.
The budget negotiations were stalled for much of July, requiring lawmakers to approve three stopgap spending plans to keep state government operating without a budget in place. Gov. Beverly Perdue signed the third into law Friday afternoon to prevent the government from shutting down over the weekend.
The House and Senate made a breakthrough last week when they agreed to a tax plan, but it quickly collapsed after Perdue complained about a proposed income tax increase.
Senate negotiators left Raleigh after that and suggested a budget could take weeks to approve. But leading Democrats in the House and Senate agreed in principle to a second tax plan late Thursday.
Budget negotiators returned to the bargaining table Friday to go through a list of differences between House and Senate proposals, and they had reached an agreement on most by Friday evening.
It remained unclear whether Perdue would sign the budget as it now stands. She previously called for up to $1.6 billion in new revenue to avoid deep cuts to education and then balked at the idea of an income tax surcharge.
“I am certain the General Assembly understands the need to protect education, and as critical negotiations continue through the weekend, I must have confidence they will end up doing what’s right for North Carolina’s children,” Perdue said on Friday.