Here's why writing North Carolina's budget is a little bit like that carnival game, Whack a Mole: just when you think you've solved one crisis, another pops up.
Last week, a last minute floor amendment to the House budget changed how the lottery funding would be divvied up. The amendment would eliminate the category called "Scholarships for Needy Students," worth $34.6 million, and move that money to public school construction.
But that scholarship category includes half of all state financial aid for community college students, said Scott Ralls, president of the community college system. "It creates a huge challenge for us because so much of our need-based financial aid has come through this source," he said.
And, Ralls said, if the amendment moves forward, "then community college students specifically would have zero access to the scholarships that come through the lottery program."
Another lottery scholarship category specifically for UNC system students would remain, but would be reduced.
The amendment, introduced by Rep. Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, passed by a large margin.
Community college tuition is considered a bargain in this state, Moore pointed out, and students can find other sources of financial aid. But counties face a dire situation, he said; some won't be able to make debt payments on school buildings because of budget cuts.
"The impact would be more severe on the counties, frankly, in terms of their debt service obligations and ultimately in terms of school construction, if we don't protect that," Moore said.
So, in the ongoing Whack a Mole game, Moore said he hopes lawmakers can restore some of the scholarship money for college students while helping counties.
"I tell you," he said, "it's just a matter of just bad choices this year all the way around."