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Budget Breakdown Q&A: Capitol Bureau Chief Jeff Tiberii on what's in this year's state budget

NC Legislative building
NC General Assembly

Republican leaders in the General Assembly have released details on the state’s biennial budget. It’s a spending plan that appropriates nearly $28 billion dollars, and includes line items for raises, savings, and infrastructure projects, among many other provisions.

WUNC’s Capitol Bureau chief Jeff Tiberii joined Dave DeWitt to help sort through some of the more important details.

Dave: Jeff, the state is on a two-year budget cycle, and this short session is designed to make minor adjustments halfway through, and not offer major surprises or changes. So, are there any major surprises or changes?

Jeff: Not that we're aware of at this moment. Things are always subject to change when it comes to your state legislature. But no, there are not any glaring or obvious things that go wait a second, what is that line item? Why are they putting $2 billion over there? There's nothing that strikes me as particularly odd. But that's always fluid.

Dave: So what is in the budget plan?

Jeff: So, just some quick historical context: Lawmakers used to not do a budget in years that ended in an even number. But with surpluses, with deficits, or if there is a political will or a want to do something and need to do something, they can do it, and they have this year.

What is in this budget: There's about $370 million for raises for state employees and public school teachers that amounts to about a 3.5 % raise for most state workers - an average 4.2% raise for K-12 teachers. An interesting provision: $80 million for labor market salary adjustments. This is a provision that I'm told is designed to address staffing issues. And it's targeted toward recruitment, as well as, retention.

There's $875 million for economic development projects, including $450 million - nearly half-a-billion - for a new transformative project. No, I don't know what that transformative project is, or if there is an active recruitment going on, but as we think about Google and Apple, that's certainly a possibility. And certainly something you know, that has happened here in North Carolina economic circles in recent years.

One other one, I'll mention a $500 million addition (allocated) to the savings reserves. That brings the total reserve cash-on-hand - rainy day, call it what you will - in state coffers to $4.75 billion. So they're saving lots of money. This has been really the standard for Republican lawmakers across the last decade and has been something that that Democrats and critics have said goes too far.

Dave: Speaking of Republican lawmakers, the leaders of the GOP have been behind closed doors for the past several months crafting this budget. It's not entirely clear what input Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has had in it. We expect to hear more from the governor in the days ahead. What's the timeline for this budget? And how can he handle it if he doesn't like it?

Jeff: There are all sorts of different kinds of legislation that emerge out of this building, but this is what's called a conference report. And when a conference report emerges, it means that that document will be voted on up or down, yea or nay, take it or leave it. There will not be amendments. There is not going to be weeks or even really days of debate.

There's going to be a short window. It will be voted on by the end of this week. We think Thursday and Friday in the Senate and Friday and Saturday in the House. It then goes to the governor who will have 10 days to sign, veto, or potentially let this budget bill become law without his signature.

We haven't heard too much from him. I think we'll hear a lot more in the coming days. But I think listeners will also remember that Gov. Cooper for the first time in his gubernatorial tenure did sign a budget last fall. And I might have a slight lean that way at this point in time.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Feature News Editor. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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