Sen. Ralph Hise, co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services, explains part of the budget in a meeting last week. Kirk Ross/Carolina Public Press

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Budget boosts teacher pay, coal ash oversight, WNC crime lab construction funding

Budget co-chair Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, answers questions on the state Senate budget proposal during its rollout last week at the legislature. Kirk Ross/Carolina Public Press

State employees would see a $1,000 raise and teachers who are willing to give up their due process rights would get an 11 percent bump in salary as part of a $21.1 billion budget plan passed by the Senate just after midnight on Saturday.

The plan, which passed 32 to 10 with only one Democrat voting for it, would swap cuts to the education budget, including elimination of state support for about 7,400 teaching assistants, to help pay for the raises, which would cost roughly $465 million.

About 57,000 veteran teachers would be required to give up their tenure rights in order to qualify for the pay raise.

Cuts over the past two years have dropped North Carolina teacher pay to 46th in the nation. The proposal would propel the state back to the middle of the pack.

But the plan has drawn fire from teacher organizations, over the career status provisions, which teacher groups say prevent administrators from firing teachers without cause. Last week, North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) President Rodney Ellis called the Senate plan “a vindictive and cynical attempt” to take advantage of teachers who have not had a substantial raise since 2007.

But Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, told Carolina Public Press that the push back he’s heard has come from the organizations and not the teachers themselves.

Hise is one of the state Senate’s chief budget writers.

“Most teachers I’ve had conversations with are very excited,” Hise said.

Members of the NCAE and other teacher organizations, he said, are “finding anything they can about it to be upset about.”

“They want to hold on to their tenure more than they want the raises,” he added.

Western Crime Lab, coal ash monitoring included

Hise also said he was particularly pleased to see the money for the Western Crime Lab in the budget.

The Senate plan provides annual debt service for up $15.4 million in bonds to cover the cost of construction of a new lab at the North Carolina Justice Academy in Edneyville in Henderson County.

Hise said he thinks there will be support for the plan once the state House takes up the budget, which is expected to happen this week.

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He said the WNC law enforcement community has rallied around the idea because of the need in WNC for faster turnaround of tests, including the processing of DWI (Driving While Impaired) toxicology reports.

The budget also contains a substantial boost in funding for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, adding $1.75 million annually for monitoring coal ash ponds and developing closure plans for each of 14 sites in the state. That includes the ponds at Duke Energy’s Asheville power plant, which are among the state’s four high priority sites.

Most of the new positions created in the plan will be in DENR’s Division of Water Resources for inspections and groundwater monitoring and the development of closure plans.

The budget also funds two new positions to address stormwater permitting, inspection and compliance; two new positions in the Division of Waste Management to handle permitting of industrial landfills for the ash; five new positions dedicated to dam inspection and safety evaluations at the ash ponds; and up to six new “reserve” positions in the secretary’s office to support management of the coal ash plan.

Other impacts across WNC

The Senate proposal also lists numerous other details that would have an impact across the mountain region, including:

• providing $2 million each to both UNC Asheville and Appalachian State University for land purchases;

• spending $2 million for repair to the roof of McGough Arena at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center, along with $3 million for livestock improvements and $500,000 for barn roof replacements for the Buncombe County facility;

• moving Grassroots Science Museum funds from the now-closed Health Adventure in Asheville to Hands On!, a children’s museum in Henderson County;

• expanding the Asheville revenue office of the N.C. Department of Revenue in Buncombe County;

• providing $500,000 for agricultural water pollution control projects in Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey counties;

• providing $100,000 for paving improvements at the WNC Farmers Market in Buncombe County;

• providing $100,000 for trail improvements in DuPont State Forest located in Henderson and Transylvania counties; and

• providing $1.3 million for renovations to the State Wildlife Commission facility at Balsam Depot in Haywood County.

More from the NCGA as last-minute local bills introduced

Last week was the deadline for local bills in what is proving to be a fast moving session. Bills introduced include:

• Legislation introduced by Reps. Chuck McGrady, Susan Fisher, Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey that would amend the rules on appointment of elected officials to the Asheville Regional Airport Authority;

• Authorization for a Brevard Meals Tax on food and beverages of up to 1.5 percent introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania, and in the Senate by Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson;

• a bill introduced by Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, that eliminates the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction;

• A bill introduced by Apodaca that is the Senate version of a recently introduced House bill exempting the Bent Creek property from the Sullivan Acts;

• A bill introduced by Hise that would stagger the terms of the Bakersville Town Council and;

• Consolidation legislation for Buncombe County Fire Districts that was introduced by the Buncombe County delegation.


More analysis of the state Senate proposal

From WRAL:

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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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