The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday November 29th

Education on state legislature’s new agenda

Wednesday will serve as an organizational day for legislators, who will then do some preliminary work on the two-year state budget and officially reconvene in two weeks.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, senior chairwoman of the House of Representatives’ Finance Committee, said lawmakers’ initial work will revolve around financial discussions and reviews of a tax reform plan passed in 2013.

While specific details of UNC-system funding are uncertain, one 2014 budget provision — later removed — that could have closed Elizabeth City State University piqued interest statewide. The historically black university, a member of the UNC system, experienced a 26 percent decline in student enrollment from 2010 to 2013.

Jenna Robinson, director of outreach for the right-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said she expects the future of ECSU to be in a holding pattern, as legislators wait to see how Chancellor Stacey Franklin Jones, hired in the fall, works to revamp the school.

Robinson said she doesn’t think universities will see significant funding changes, though she believes in-state tuition for veterans will be discussed.

“The UNC system has already laid out its request — a 1.9 percent increase over last year — so that’s not a major change,” Robinson said. “They may or may not get that full amount because like I said, there’s possibility to be a revenue shortfall.”

Gerry Cohen, former general counsel to the General Assembly who now works in government relations at the Raleigh office of Nelson Mullins law firm, added that terms will expire for several members of the UNC-system Board of Governors, which is appointed by the legislature.

“That’ll be important to watch,” Cohen said.

But Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development for left-leaning N.C. Policy Watch, said he thinks the UNC system will continue to be in a precarious situation.

“I think that the university system remains in the cross hairs at the legislature,” Schofield said. “I don’t think they have a lot of friends, and it’s hard for me to imagine big raises for faculty.”

Schofield said pay raises for K-12 teachers are more likely, particularly after lawmakers gave only small raises to veteran teachers in 2014.

Rodney Ellis, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said the organization is appreciative that previous pay raises significantly increased starting salaries for teachers, but hopes veteran teachers will also receive due recognition.

“Beginning teachers don’t become experienced teachers without the support of experienced teachers,” he said.

Ellis also said the N.C. Association of Educators is advocating this year for the return of the N.C. Teacher Cadet Program and N.C. Teaching Fellows — both of which aimed to bring high school and college students into the teaching workforce.

Schofield said Republican lawmakers might push for further tax cuts and perhaps the elimination of the corporate income tax. In 2014, North Carolina failed to bring the Toyota headquarters to the state, losing to Texas, which has no corporate income tax.

“To my way of thinking, (this) would be a terrible decision,” he said. “(Lawmakers are) going to be confronted already with shortfalls because of the taxes they’ve enacted.”

Howard said the revenue picture will become clearer after the first few weeks.

“(The budget has) got to be the first thing, and then there’s all sorts of pieces for the budget you have to look at — Medicaid is a biggie,” she said.

Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos have suggested in recent months that they would be open to the possibility of Medicaid expansion.

Howard said budget issues will significantly affect the likelihood of the expansion.

“(We have) to get a grip on how we need to manage (Medicaid). We just don’t have the money to do it,” she said.

Schofield said he thinks Medicaid is the most important issue of the session and could have lasting implications on McCrory’s legacy.

“It’s a low risk, high-reward decision or choice, and I’ll be personally very disappointed if we don’t make some progress on that.”

state@dailytarheel.com



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