Easley talks up priorities, meets with legislative leaders

By: - June 22, 2005 5:16 am

Hendersonville Times 

AP State News

Gov. Mike Easley on Tuesday laid out his checklist heading into negotiations on a state budget, saying he wants a spending plan that’s fiscally sound with enough money for low-wealth schools and health care.

"The final budget agreement must continue the progress our state has made over the past four years," Easley said in a news release.

Following a meeting with Senate leader Marc Basnight and House Speaker Jim Black, the fellow Democrat Easley urged negotiators to reach a budget deal before the next fiscal year begins July 1.

Any budget would be presented to Easley to be signed into law, so the governor will be a player in negotiations.

In a letter sent to Basnight and Black, the governor said a final budget "must be targeted at our most pressing education challenges."

He said they included teacher recruitment and retainment and high school reform.

Easley also mentioned items in his budget proposal, including the creation of school-based child and family support teams designed to help at-risk students, and the earmarking of tens of million of dollars more for poor school districts.

The House provide a portion of the money Easley wanted for these programs, but the Senate provided none.

On health care, the state "cannot retreat on our commitment to our seniors, our children and the disabled in our communities," Easley said.

Senate budget-writers were criticized by health care advocates for a $53 million cost-saving provision that would shift 57,000 people with dual-eligibility for Medicaid and Medicare to Medicare-only coverage. An estimated 8,000 others, however, would lose their coverage entirely, according to state officials.

Senate leaders defended these and other Medicaid reductions as needed to bring North Carolina’s program in line with other states. They set aside money to help care for any displaced patients. The House budget eliminated the cut.

Easley wrote the letter the same day Black released his budget conferees. Like the Senate’s list, all the House conference committee members are Democrats. Not a single Republican voted for the budget plan in their respective chambers.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066