Sunday, May 11, 2008

From my story today..

RALEIGH -- Gov. Easley will unveil his final budget Monday morning and he says teacher pay will reach the national average.

Lawmakers get back to work in Raleigh on Tuesday and will come up with their budget proposals as well. Senior Political Reporter Tim Boyum has a sneak peak of what we can expect.

Two months ago Gov. Easley proposed a massive package to help prevent future droughts.

"We currently believe we really have a 19th century water system in place in the 21st century and we have to make changes and improve on those," Easley said in March.

Aides say his budget will call for a drought task force and a sales tax holiday in october on energy efficient products. The estimated $22 billion budget will equal a four percent increase. Easley will once again focus on education.

"It's the national economy that's causing us concern and we think it's only going to be investing in education that we give people the ability to get the jobs that are going to be here in the future," Easley Senior Aide Dan Gerlach said.

That includes enough teacher pay increases to reach the national average.

"That's what the governor said he would do and he's accomplishing that," Gerlach added. "There's nothing more important than getting the best and brightest into our classrooms. These teachers spend hours with these kids every day."

State employees will get raises as well but it's unclear how much. Easley will call for mental health reform and more money for probation staffing to fix problems highlighted by the Eve Carson murder case.

On transportation, he will keep a cap on the gas tax and begin shifting money back to the highway trust fund that's been used for other purposes.

"Given the needs of transportation, the governor feels it's time to start the phaseout and bring some of that money in the highway trust fund," Gerlach said.

Despite requests for billion dollar bonds for transportation, school construction, and water and sewer, Gov, Easley will not recommend borrowing big bucks for those projects.

The governor will make no changes to the lottery which expects to reach its financial goals this year. He also plans to expand a program offering free college to military kids who lost their parents.

Keep in mind this is simply Gov. Easley's proposal. The State House and Senate will come up with their own ideas. Then all three sides must negotiate a final plan by the end of June.

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