The much-delayed state budget is ready for the Governor's signature. After weeks of going back and forth, the House and Senate cast their final votes. Governor Perdue says she will approve the budget by the end of the week. The budget proposal itself is more than two hundred pages long, and buried in all that verbiage are cuts and gains that will affect us right here in our area. There is good and bad news coming out of this year's state budget. Here's the good news first, although it is brief. The state's probation and parole department, struggling for some time to keep up with increasing caseloads, may catch a break. Part of the budget proposal states that this department may hire more officers, and an additional supervisor. That means officers will be able to keep better track of their offenders. "The kinds of things that will help them become better citizens, to be successful at probation, that will give them more time to assess the risk that the offenders pose to the community,” said Community Corrections Manager Jean Walker. Now to the bad news. Part of the budget will cut forty million dollars from the care of mental health, substance abuse, and physically disabled clients. Funding will also be reduced for community mental health services, much like crisis centers and group therapy. Another surprising cutback will affect more than a dozen female inmates in our area. The Wilmington Residential Home is a rehabilitation facility to help female offenders get back on their feet. Their doors will be closed as of September first. The women and staff will be transferred to other facilities in the state. “We're going to be strung out in different places, its not going to be the same, it's just sad,” said program supervisor Christina Dillon. The most staggering news coming out of the new budget that will most likely affect everyone is the tax hike. Sales tax will increase one percent starting September first. To some, that may seem insignificant, but even a dime here and there can add up. The budget also targets folks with vices. People who smoke tobacco and drink malt liquor will see a tax increase. Frank Bullara, owner of Bugsy’s cigars in Leland says the state is shaking up an industry that’s already struggling. "Let me tell you, a ten percent tobacco tax I can eat that, I can absorb a ten percent tobacco tax. Thirty-one percent, I have to pass on to my consumer,” Bullara said. The idea behind hiking up sales and "sin" taxes is to make up for the decline in revenue in our state.
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