Working on prepping for the first day of the General Assembly so sorry for the lack of original post-but here's my story today on Gov. Easley's budget proposal released this morning.
RALEIGH -- Gov. Mike Easley wants to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to help pay for teacher raises and mental health reform.
That's the highlight of a $21.5 billion budget the governor released Monday morning. It's the last budget of his administration before he leaves office in January.
Four years ago, Easley promised to help teacher pay reach the national average. His proposal does just that with a 7% raise.
"We do this by focusing on our strategy of helping beginning teachers," Gov. Easley said. "It will be an average of $36,000-36,500 when enacted. I'm sure many of you can recall when $30,000 sounded like a lot for teachers."
NC Association of Educator's Eddie Davis added, "To be able to say to people we are making the commitment to people to increase our teachers salaries as well as those mid career is a good connection and a good commitment for the people of North Carolina."
Gov. Easley also proposes $68 million dollars to help fix the mental health crisis. To pay for mental health and teacher raises, Easley wants to raise the cigarette tax by 20 cents a pack and four cents on alcohol.
"My thought is if 4 cents a can, if that causes somebody economic hardship, then they are probably drinking too much and are going to be customers of mental health/substance abuse centers anyway," Gov. Easley said.
Some feel those taxes target the poor and want taxes raised elsewhere.
"For example, we just eliminated an income tax on the wealthiest North Carolinians just last year which if you put that into place that would raise just as much money as they are going to raise from cigarette and alcohol taxes," Elaine Mejia from the NC Budget and Tax Center said.
While teachers and Gov. Easley are happy to get teacher's salaries up to the national average the state employees association is not so happy about their recommendations.
Easley's proposal offers state employees a 1.5% pay increase plus a one time $1000 bonus.
"This 1.5% can't put gas in your tank, as you know the cost of living is skyrocketing, gas food everything they need to just subsist is going through the roof and 1.5% won't come close to catching it," Ardis Watkins from the State Employees Association said.
Here's a look at some other recommendations. He returns $25 million in transportation funding to the highway trust fund. Easley gives four million dollars to improve probation problems highlighted by the Eve Carson murder case. He also give money to help families facing foreclosure and creates a drought task force.
Keep in mind these are simply the governor's proposals. The House and Senate must come up with their own versions, then all three sides must negotiate a final budget by June 30th.