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Cigarettes, booze for teachers, mental health

Gov. Mike Easley proposed a $21.5 billion budget Monday that would raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to help pay for teacher raises and mental health reform.

Easley's budget, a 4.2 percent increase from the previous year, would add a 4 percent tax to beer and wine and a 4 percent tax to liquor to pay for a $68 million fix to the state's failing mental health system.

Easley would raise the tax on cigarettes from 35 cents to 55 cents per pack to pay for public school teacher raises that would average 7 percent. Administrators would receive a 6 percent raise.

This is Easley's last budget proposal. He is prohibited by law from seeking a third term. He has said a major goal of his last year is to get teacher pay up to the national average.

Pay increases would be given at a higher rate for newer teachers, said Dan Gerlach, a senior budget advisor to Easley.

"We all have to keep in mind this is a salary that is going to have to continue to grow if we want a quality education across the nation," Easley told reporters Monday morning.

More after the jump.

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Most state employees would get much smaller raises. Easley is proposing a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase and a one-time, $1,000 bonus. That's a much smaller raise than the 4 percent state employees received last year.

Retirees, who received a 2.2 percent cost of living increase last year, would get a 1.2 percent increase under Easley's proposed budget.

Easley's budget proposes spending $68 million to enhance mental health services by expanding local crisis services and increase staffing in state hospitals. Easley's budget would create 435 new positions in the mental health system.

Easley said the alcohol tax should not present a harship to consumers.

"It's not a significant amount of money to the consumer," Easley said. "But it's a significant help to the mentally ill."

The budget would cut the amount of hours community support services could bill the state. A series of stories in The News & Observer reported that such agencies were bilking the state out of millions in fraudulent claims. The budget forecasts the state could receive as much as $25 million in refunds from those claims.

Overall, the budget proposes creating 768 new positions, including 83 in the Department of Correction, which has recently come under fire for inadequacies in the probation and parole divisions.

Easley budget would grow $870 million from last year despite a nationwide economic slowdown. The state is in relatively good shape in part because budget writers last year anticipated the slow-down ad were conservative in revenue estimates.

Easley began the budget-writing process with $492 million from last year, a combination of unspent money and unanticipated tax collections.

The budget calls for an additional $34.6 million for enrollment increases at UNC campuses, nearly doubling the estimate from last year.

Easley's budget recommends $396 million in cuts to government, which equals about 2 percent of the total operating budget.


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Re: Cigarettes, booze for teachers, mental health

Although I am not a great fan of booze and cigarettes I think is quite unfair to raise taxes for paying teachers. A much more profitable thing would be drug legalization starting with marijuana. As far as I can see this would solve more problems at once.
Gordman, Alcohol Intervention

Re: Cigarettes, booze for teachers, mental health

Strangely enough, the governor's office has completely flipped over the issue of adjusting teacher pay for cost of living. Back in 2005, it was part of the governor's process; now he's calling it "smoke and mirrors."

Re: Cigarettes, booze for teachers, mental health

NO MORE FRIGGIN TAXES, SLEAZELY!!!! WE are TAXED to DEATH in NC already!!

CURB the SPENDING and ALL the CORRUPTION to help your posse. Sick of your a**...

Re: Cigarettes, booze for teachers, mental health

It's a good thing that cigarettes, booze and gambling are available to pay for the children's education and try to repair the mental health services.

Re: Cigarettes, booze for teachers, mental health

You wrote:

This is Easley's last budget proposal. He is prohibited by law from seeking a third term.

A third consecutive term, you mean.

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