Legislators to grapple on budget

By: - July 3, 2005 9:25 am

Rocky Mount Telegram 

Legislators to grapple on budget

By Jimmy Ryals, Rocky Mount Telegram

A last-minute continuing resolution kept the state government running last week, but legislators still face broad budget differences after the holiday break.

Area legislators negotiating education and transportation spending say compromises on those issues are in sight.

The main dispute among transportation conferees, said N.C. Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, is over how many motor-carrier enforcement agents – officers charged with promoting safety and enforcing the law on highways — to hire. The N.C. House budget includes 208 positions over the next two years, while the Senate plan calls for 149.

"That’s how many can be trained over the two years," Jenkins said. The two houses are $600,000 apart on spending for the positions.

Jenkins said Thursday that he has a compromise figure in mind, but he declined to share it.

N.C. Rep. Joe Tolson, D-Edgecombe, and N.C. Sen. A.B. Swindell, D-Nash, are on opposite sides of the education negotiation.

The General Assembly plans differ on enrollment growth in North Carolina. Senate budget writers fully funded growth at universities, community colleges and public primary and secondary schools; House writers stopped at the community colleges and public schools.

Tolson said House leaders have urged the negotiators to use any uncommitted money on university enrollment growth.

Much of the discussion is academic, with debate over extending personal income and sales tax increases stalled, Tolson said.

"You’ve got to know what kind of revenue you’ve got to spend before you can do the final budget," he said. "That’s one of the key things about the tax package. What are we going to do with it?"

A survey of area lawmakers found them following no line-items specifically tied to Nash or Edgecombe county projects as the budget moves along.

Legislators said broader funding issues – low-wealth school funding and Medicaid relief for counties among them – would have direct and indirect effects on the area.

Tucked into the individual state department’s budgets are some local initiatives. Swindell cited the potential construction of a crossover on Interstate 95.

"What I work on constantly are things that are needed for roads, things where I can have any influence on transportation," he said.

Allen had I-95 in mind, too. It may not be part of the budget or Nash and Edgecombe counties, but she said she expects Randy Parton’s proposed entertainment center to benefit the I-95 corridor.

"Anything that draws folks up and down 1-95 to our area is going benefit folks, plus it would mean a lot of jobs," she said.

N.C. Rep. Bill Daughtridge, R-Nash, couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.

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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