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With Republicans likely to retain majorities in both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly and Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory poised to obtain the governor’s seat, higher education policies could continue on a conservative path next year.

Republicans gained control of both chambers of the state legislature in 2010 for the first time since 1898. In an effort to balance the budget without raising taxes during a tough economy, legislators enacted millions in controversial budget cuts to education.

The UNC system absorbed a $414 million funding cut in last year’s state budget, but legislators restored about $24 million in adjustments to the system’s budget this summer. Universities have been battling to balance affordability while maintaining high academic performance.

And if Republicans remain in control, many expect the budget cuts to keep coming.

Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, who is not running for re-election, said the substantial cuts are weighing on the minds of voters.

In survey of more than 900 likely N.C. voters, Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling firm in Raleigh, found that 54 percent disapprove of the legislature’s performance.

“Their policies have been wildly unpopular, and polling shows that people are ready for a change,” Hackney said.

But Mitch Kokai, political analyst for the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, said the GOP is almost certain to keep its majorities — mostly due to favorably drawn districts.

“Republicans won their big gains just in time to take over the redistricting process, so they have used new election maps to maximize their ability to win legislative seats in 2012,” he said.

Kokai said Republican lawmakers and McCrory are likely to favor programs that focus on positive outcomes and tangible, measurable results, such as the UNC-system’s proposed performance-based funding model.

The model, being discussed by the system’s Board of Governors, would allocate funding to schools based on factors like six-year graduation rates, retention and degree efficiency.

Ricky Diaz, spokesman for McCrory’s campaign, said McCrory hopes to work with universities to provide financial incentives for degree completion. McCrory leads Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton by 10 percentage points in the Public Policy Polling survey.

Schorr Johnson, spokesman for the Dalton campaign, said in a statement that Dalton would work to restore the recent cuts to higher education.

But Diaz said it’s time for a change in the governor’s office.
“McCrory does bring a fresh perspective outside of state government,” he said.

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