Tuesday, May 13, 2008

RALEIGH -- Lawmakers returned to work in Raleigh Tuesday and it's clear there will be a battle over the state budget.

Monday, Gov. Easley proposed large teacher pay raises but he also wants to raise taxes. So far, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are opposing some of the governor's ideas.

Easley wants to raise teacher pay to the national average. To do that, it requires a 7-percent pay increase. To pay for those raises and a pricey mental health reform he wants to raise the tax on cigarettes by 20 cents and the tax on alcohol by 4 cents.

One might expect a negative reaction from Republicans but even fellow Democrats are not on board with Easley's ideas.

"We're a little concerned in this economic downturn which we find ourselves in to raise taxes right now," Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand (D-Cumberland) said.

Republicans believe the governor's budget plan focuses too much on spending and taxing.

"In tough economic times it is not the time to raise taxes, particularly, taxes that hit the poorest people," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said.

House Speaker Joe Hackney also has concerns about state employee pay. While the governor wants a 7-percent increase for teachers, he's offering just a 1.5-percent pay increase and a thousand dollar bonus for all other state employees.

"The House historically does not pass a budget with that kind of disparity between state employees and teachers and I would predict for you there would not be that kind of disparity this time either," Speaker Hackney (D-Orange) said.

While the budget is the main issue there are several other issues that remain on the table, however many lawmakers say they may not get to those this summer.

"The theory of this session in which we find ourselves is to examine the budget," Sen. Rand added. "We need to examine the budget and go home."

That could mean little movement on major issues like transportation, the drought, and gang legislation.

In an election year, few lawmakers want to rock the boat and will likely wait to address controversial issues in 2009.

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