Originally created 04/08/04

Budget writers reach harmony



ATLANTA - Legislative budget writers reached apparent agreement on the budget Wednesday, just hours ahead of a midnight deadline that would force them into a special session if they fail to complete the deal.

Rep. Mickey Channell, D-Greensboro, a House negotiator, said the proposal would go to the budget negotiators for formal ratification and, if approved, would race the clock to the floor of both chambers for a vote.

Gov. Sonny Perdue was briefed and expressed support for the deal, said Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville.

Mr. Perdue had threatened to call a special session if lawmakers went home either without passing a budget or after passing a budget he thought was unbalanced.

At issue is the $16.4 billion budget for the year beginning July 1, which includes $800 million in debt-financed construction programs for schools, colleges, ports and roads, a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and state employees, and a continuation of the state's property tax relief program for homeowners.

But the measure also includes a 5 percent cut for most state agencies, a belt-tightening step to help the state recover its financial footing after two years of sluggish tax collections.

Mr. Perdue, stung by a Medicaid shortfall in the current budget year, wanted Medicaid fully funded and his Senate allies wrote a budget that fit those requirements but was less generous than the House budget to schools.

The heart of the dilemma was how to shoehorn funding for both programs into the budget without putting it in the red.

The compromise solves that by delaying for several months the effective date of the 2 percent pay raises Mr. Perdue proposed for teachers and state employees and using the money saved by the delay to boost spending on education, as the House wanted, and on Medicaid, as the Senate wanted.



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