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Art Pope addresses Senate on issues with proposed budget

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Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, addresses the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Senate's proposed budget. Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, addresses the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Senate's proposed budget.

The governor's budget director addressed issues he has with the Senate's proposed budget on Thursday, saying it will inevitably lead to "firing people and cutting services."

Gov. Pat McCrory, the House and Senate all have allocated different numbers to fund the state's share of Medicaid.

The Senate budget sets aside about $206 million more than the House for Medicaid; but in doing so, it would cut coverage for about 15,000 North Carolinians.

Art Pope, McCrory's budget director, said the Senate version allocates too much, adding that the Senate's allocation will end up taking away money from other resources.

Pope told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday said the governor's budget, however, gets the numbers right.

"My budget and Health and Human Services teams clearly provided full information and answered all questions from the Senate committee regarding the Medicaid numbers in my budget for the upcoming fiscal year," McCrory said in a statement.

He added of Thursday's hearing, "This ... further established that we have a sound budget that provides fiscally responsible pay raises for teachers and state employees without cutting teacher assistants or vital services to the blind, disabled, elderly and Alzheimer patients -- all of which are outlined in my budget."

The senate is still skeptical, though, and worries there will be a shortage of funds.

"Are we setting ourselves up for a $2 million to $300 million shortfall?" asked Sen. Jerry Tillman. "Are you comfortable with these numbers?"

Pope also pointed out issues with the Senate's plan to fund about an 11 percent wage increase for teachers in exchange for them relinquishing their tenure or "career status." Pope told Tillman and the rest of the committee that "the cost of the Senate budget is firing teaching assistants -- 6,000 to 7,000 of them."

He added, "If you fire them and made a mistake, you can't go back and rehire them next spring."

Pope also told the committee that if the governor's numbers were off, the worst case scenario is that they'll have to ask for more money next year to cover any Medicaid costs. But Pope said that's "a better alternative than firing people and cutting services."

McCrory's spokesman, Josh Ellis, said that if the numbers are off, there is an additional $150 milllion available in the governor's budget available for the next fiscal year to cover cost overruns.

The chambers have until June 30 to finalize a modified budget, or else the state will operate on the current budget that is in place, which does not include raises for teachers.

On Wednesday, the House introduced a scaled-back spending plan that focuses largely on raising teacher and state employee salaries, but Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) said the measure fails to set aside enough money for the latest downgrade in the Medicaid picture.


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Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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