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State House leaders on Sunday released their version of the proposed next state budget. Click the image to view a PDF of their proposal.

A hefty tuition hike for out-of-state students, compensation for victims of the state’s eugenics program and planning for a new western School of Science and Math are among the differences between the new House budget proposal and one approved by the Senate last month.

House leaders released their $20.57 billion spending plan [PDF] Sunday night and are scheduled to hold a press conference to Monday afternoon to go over the details.

Last week, House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Charlotte) announced a timetable for the budget, saying floor votes would be held June 12-13. The House appropriations committee is scheduled to review the bill and vote on amendments Tuesday morning.

Once the House passes its version of the budget, the bill would go back to the Senate and then to a conference committee. Negotiators for the two chambers have about two weeks to hammer out an agreement. The state’s fiscal year ends on June 30.

Gov. Pat McCrory released his budget in March, and the Senate followed last month. All three plans are close in terms of total spending, but differ in details and strategy. The 305-page House plan contains far fewer policy provisions than the Senate’s, which runs more than 100 pages longer. An accompanying Appropriations Committee report on the budget can be found here. [PDF]

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Differences in crime and justice

Key similarities in the plan that will affect the western region of the state include the closure of the Western Youth Correctional Center in Morganton and the Buncombe County Juvenile Detention Center, a move budget writers attributed to declining prison population. Unlike the Senate, the House plan does not call for the closure of the Buncombe Correctional Center.

The House also follows the Senate and the governor in providing start-up funding and an annual appropriation for a new crime lab for the western region. The House provides $1.5 million in annual funding for 19 toxicology positions, which is similar to the Senate’s plan. Neither chamber’s budget addresses the location of the lab, and the House and Senate differ on which department would control the lab.

The Senate wants to move crime lab operations and the State Bureau of Investigation from the Attorney General’s office to a new Department of Public Safety, while the House moves the crime lab out of the SBI and sets it up as a new, separate division under the Attorney General.

Higher-education funding, tuition increases

Both House and Senate budget proposals include $2 million each for Appalachian State University and UNC-Asheville. The money would go for land purchases for the Asheville campus and for planning funds to restart ASU’s Watauga Medical Center project. Funds for the medical center were appropriated in 2008 but were used to cover spending shortfalls during the recession.

The House follows the governor in calling for a 12.3 percent tuition hike for out-of-state students. The Senate plan does not include tuition increases.

Also included in the House’s draft is a requirement that the UNC system study the feasibility of adding a new School of Science and Math campus to serve the western region of the state. The study mandates that the system look at the cost of renovating the School for the Deaf facility in Morganton as a possible location.

Eugenics compensation on the table

A distinct difference between the House and Senate plans is a call for compensation for victims of the state’s eugenics program. Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Eden) have a long-running disagreement over the payout. The House budget bill includes $10 million to cover payments of $50,000 each to the surviving victims of the program. Buncombe County has the fifth-highest number of individuals in the state who are eligible for the payout.

Go here to read Carolina Public Press’s previous reporting on the state eugenics program, its impact in WNC and past efforts to fund the compensation program.

Future of rural development, water quality

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House and Senate budget plans also differ in the future of the Rural Development Center. While the Senate budget called for ending funding for the non-profit and creating a new state program to handle rural development and infrastructure grants, the House proposal retains funding for the center.

The House also provides funding for the state’s regional economic development commissions, including AdvantageWest, in a move that also differs from the Senate’s propsal.

But both House and Senate call for restructuring state trust funds for land conservation and water quality. But differences can be found in the details.

The Senate plan terminates the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund and Natural Heritage Trust Fund programs and creates a new Water and Land Conservation Fund under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The House plan ends the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and merges its mission with the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Both chambers offer more funding for conservation and clean water funds than McCrory’s proposal. The House version also retains dedicated revenue streams for state parks and clean water trust funds from special license plate fees and a deed stamp tax on real estate.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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