- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Senate Republicans said late Wednesday that they would try again to move two crime investigatory units out of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office in their state budget proposal and that they would create a new entity that ultimately would run North Carolina’s Medicaid program.

Senate leader Phil Berger’s office, in announcing more details about a $21.2 billion state government spending plan, said GOP lawmakers also want to pay for 1,000 additional children to receive pre-kindergarten services, to expand child protective services and to reduce waiting lists for child care subsidies.

Berger, R-Rockingham, said earlier Wednesday that there would be significant pay raises for veteran teachers who agree to give up their earned job protections. Teacher pay raises would cost up to $468 million next year. Budget documents released late Wednesday night show a proposal to scale back funding allocated for teacher assistants in early grades would save nearly half that amount.

The plan, which adjusts the second year of the two-year budget plan approved last summer, was expected to be debated in three committees Thursday. Other Senate leaders are aiming to pass the measure by week’s end and send it to the House, which would then put together its own competing plan. They want to get a compromise to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

The Senate’s proposal spends 2.6 percent more than the current year’s budget and $62 million more than what lawmakers agreed to spend this coming year. “This budget keeps our state on solid financial ground, so it can continue to grow and prosper,” Berger said in a news release.

The plan would seek to move the State Bureau of Investigation and the State Crime Lab out of the Attorney General’s Office and into the Department of Public Safety, a Cabinet-level agency run by the governor. Republican lawmakers have attempted similar changes in recent years, arguing that the SBI is better grouped with the rest of the state’s law enforcement divisions within the department. But opponents of such a move - including Cooper and many police chiefs and prosecutors - counter it would inhibit the agency’s independence from the executive branch.

The lab was the subject of past criticism after a review of its blood unit identified improperly handled cases. Several staffing and accountability changes have been made at the lab in recent years.

The release from Berger’s officer says the SBI shift, which also would direct the governor to nominate an SBI director subject to General Assembly confirmation, would “depoliticize” the agency. Such a move still would be shrouded in politics, since Cooper is preparing a run for governor in 2016 and has been critical of Republican policies.

“For 75 years an independent SBI has without bias rooted out corruption in the executive and legislative branches,” Cooper said in a release Wednesday night. “With this move the legislature protects itself and the governor at the expense of government integrity, and ignores North Carolina law enforcement’s opposition.”

The Senate plan also sets aside $4.9 million for the new organizations that would house the Division of Medical Assistance, which runs Medicaid. The organization would focus in part on creating “budget predictability” for Medicaid - a key element of McCrory’s proposed Medicaid program overhaul. But senators have been cool to the governor’s reform idea.



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