N.C. Senate President pro tempore has been touting an 11 percent pay increase North Carolina teachers would receive in exchange for their tenure.
However, Berger hasn't told the public where the money would come from to pay for the raises, on average, $5,800 per teacher.
The $21.2 billion budget was crafted outside of subcommittees and moved through the Senate in just 48 hours.
He let the 275-page bill speak for itself—and the Senate's proposed budget cuts indeed speak for themselves.
The plan makes another deep cut to public education, eliminating 7,400 teaching assistants' jobs; Senate Democrats called the raise proposal a shell game.
"By cutting education and kicking people off their health insurance, this is not about paying teachers well but cloaking your political vulnerability at the expense of our school kids," said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.
The budget kicks 14,000 blind, elderly and disabled people off Medicaid. It moves the State Bureau of Investigation from under the jurisdiction of the state's Department of Justice to the Department of Public Safety, and under the leadership of a governor-appointed director.
The Republican majority budget plan is strategic. It pegs teacher raises to unpopular budget provisions so the GOP can lambaste lawmakers who vote against the budget.
"You can dodge it and talk about other things but the centerpiece of this budget is that raise," Berger told Senators Friday night, after the bill was debated.
"Make no mistake about it, if you vote against this budget, you are voting against a substantial raise for teachers."
With its $232 million in additional funding cuts to teachers' assistants, no new money for textbooks and per student textbook spending of $15 per child, the 2014 budget proposal picks up where last year's left off.
The result? Second and third grade teachers would no longer have teaching assistants in their classrooms.
Stein said that coupled with last year's bill eliminating maximum class size requirements for kindergarten through fourth grade, the loss of teaching assistants will be disastrous.
He noted that the senate just passed a bill to make improvements to the Read to Achieve Program, which advances third-grade students who read proficiently into fourth grade.
"Cuts to teaching assistants will hinder progress in ensuring all third graders are reading proficient," Stein said. "Are we serious about helping kids learn to read? This budget is not."
Additionally, the budget eliminates school nurse positions, lengthens bus routes and cuts funding to the Department of Public Instruction by 30 percent.
"I'm trying to figure out what first, second, third grade teachers must have done to you," Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, told Senate Republicans. "It's like you're taking a vendetta out on them."
The budget proposes creating a $4.9 million Medicaid entity, the Division of Medical Assistance, and gradually moving it out of the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to numbers from WRAL, under new eligibility guidelines the budget would cut $32 million in services to 3,342 blind, elderly and disabled people who will lose their Medicaid coverage; 11,886 will lose Medicaid eligibility under county special assistance programs, as those programs would be decoupled from Medicaid.
Republican Senators who insist the state has spent too much on Medicaid in the past say these medically needy populations will be eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats do not believe this will be the case, noting that DHHS had no input into the budget decision.
"Medicaid has been our priority for the past 10 years," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Forsyth. "We have cut everything to pay for Medicaid expansion. We need to prioritize other areas."
Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, is a big supporter of this move. He claims that placing the SBI under the Department of Public Safety—and removing it from the oversight of the state Attorney General's office, currently occupied by Democrat Roy Cooper—"depoliticizes" the bureau.
Goolsby said North Carolina is one of only eight states where the investigative bureau is under the state's Justice Department.
A director appointed by the governor would lead the bureau in eight-year terms, straddling gubernatorial administrations.
Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, said the move would in fact compromise the SBI and "make it susceptible to political influence."
"If you put the agency in a position where it reports to a director appointed by the governor who reports to the General Assembly, you put that integrity at risk," Jackson said. "The SBI has a dozen investigations going on into the DPS."
Stein said the move is akin to establishing a state police force, calling it "big government."
"It's not great for our civil liberties, there is no good public policy for this transfer," Stein said. "Moving it will hinder, not help, local law enforcement."
The budget would authorize a three-judge panel to rule on any prospective state legislation challenged as unconstitutional.
Currently these cases are decided by a Superior Court judge from Wake County. Many of these judges are Democrats.
The proposed panel would be appointed by the state Supreme Court Chief Justice. Republicans have poured thousands of dollars into state judicial races in hopes of tilting the political balance of the court their way.
The budget also allocates $1.1 million to fracking, including marketing to attract oil and gas companies to the state.
The budget cuts $6.7 million in DOT funds to state Ferry Operations, Public Transportation, Aviation, Rail and Bicycle and Pedestrian divisions.
The budget increases the fees for ABC permits for bars and restaurants 25–50 percent.
For more budget numbers, see this page.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Shell game"