Lawmakers are hastily advancing the state budget this week with minimal changes expected to the massive cornerstone policy document of this year’s short session.
Late Monday, legislators made the $23.9 billion spending plan public for the first time. Today, the bill is being discussed in committee meetings, with votes by the full Senate and House slated for Wednesday through Friday. Republicans are breaking with decades of standing practice and not allowing for amendments to the budget, meaning the fiscal blueprint is likely to become law before the weekend.
Among the top-line, big picture items are average teacher raises of 6.5 percent, implementation of a “living wage” for all full-time permanent state employees, and another $60 million for Hurricane Matthew relief.
The 267-page bill, accompanied by a 481-page money report, also includes policy language related to GenX water contamination, charter schools, and light rail, as well as hundreds of other provisions – ranging from an additinoal $4.8 million for the UNC School of Medicine's Asheville Campus, to $7,500 for the Make A Difference Food Pantry in Mt. Olive.
“These budget adjustments secure a strong financial future for North Carolina by sustainably increasing state investments while ensuring relief for taxpayers, a balanced approach that has consistently proven successful in growing our economy, producing revenue surpluses and saving a record rainy day reserve,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) in a statement.
“We have never been shut out to this extent, we never did this to Republicans,” said House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake). “Republicans are scared to vote against our amendments to teacher pay, worker training, school safety, clean water and early childhood education.”
Democrats bordered on irate Tuesday afternoon, again railing on a process that they say is unprecedented in the last half century of state politics.
“Today we have seen a rape of this budget, and I’m having problems right now trying to reconcile if I’m in North Carolina or North Korea,” said Mickey Michaux (D-Durham). “It’s just that bad. Because we have not had an opportunity to participate.”
This budget is the second year of a two-year plan approved last June.
What This Budget Does At The Top:
- Increases teacher pay by an average of 6.5 percent, more than the 6.2 percent average raise that was approved last year as part of this two-year spending plan;
- Provides a 2 percent raise for most of the 81,000 rank and file state employees, boosts highway patrol troopers' wages by an average of 8 percent, and correctional officers compensation by an average of 4 percent;
- Reduces the personal income tax rate from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent in 2019 (Adopted a year ago…)
- Cuts the corporate tax rate from 3 percent to 2.5 percent (Also passed in June 2017.)
- Appropriates $3.08 million for downtown revitalization projects in 45 cities and towns.
In Higher Ed:
- Increases funding by $4.8 million for the UNC School of Medicine's Asheville Campus;
- Restores a $500,000 funding cut to UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Law;
- Appropriates $500,000 to UNC Rockingham Health Care for matching grant funds.
- The Wright School in Durham, which serves students who have severe behavior and mental problems, would receive $3 million, including a provision to study possible expansion to other locations in the state;
- A $250,000 grant would go to Cross Trail Outfitters to promote “wellness and physical activity”; the organization’s web site says it mission is “Guiding the next generation to Christ through the outdoors”;
- A half a million appropriation for the American Legion World Series. These funds would expand a local facility and improve marketing and national promotion of its home site, which is in Shelby, part of House Speaker Tim Moore's district. The group is responsible for hosting the 2018 American Legion Baseball World Series.
What This Budget Does NOT Do:
- It does not let light rail live; or in other words – kills the transportation project between Orange and Durham Counties. With Amazon and Apple planning major expansion projects and considering North Carolina as a possible location, Representative Jackson called that “an obvious red flag” for them.
- Makes no work requirements related to Medicaid;
- Fund the North Carolina Suicide Prevention Lifeline which receives an average of 60,000 calls annually. According to a House staffer this was an oversight – the program has been funded with federal dollars, but because of an expiring grant, the state needs to step in. “In my mind it’s a casualty of process, in which the budge was not provided to the public for any sort of feedback,” commented Rob Thompson, deputy director of NC Child. The funding for the suicide prevention initiative is expected to be renewed through a separate piece of policy;
- Maintain deadlines related to contamination in Triangle Area lakes. This plan pushes back nutrient management deadlines for Jordan and Falls Lake.
State senators are expected to cast the first of two required votes Wednesday. House legislators are expected to give final approval to the budget by Friday, at which point it goes to the Governor, who can sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature.