A $24 billion compromise state budget proposal that provides pay raises supported by the State Employees Association of North Carolina and injects billions of dollars into school construction passed the first of two votes in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
House Bill 966, the 2019 Appropriations Act, also provides pay raises for teachers, correctional officers, assistant district attorneys, community college and university faculty, clerks of court, and other public workers.
The budget authorizes $1.5 billion for capital expenditures on K-12 schools and $400 million for community colleges to fund repairs, renovations, and new buildings on public education campuses across North Carolina.
Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), an education budget writer, called the spending plan a “student-centered budget.”
“I’m pleased to tell you this education budget for North Carolina totals $14.2 billion,” Rep. Horn said. “That’s 57% of our total budget and a near $500 million increase over the previous year. There can be no question about North Carolina’s commitment to public education. This is a student-centered budget.”
The proposal also invests over $25 million to fund 170 new salaried positions in the courts to implement North Carolina’s commitment to “Raise the Age” of juvenile jurisdiction.
Eleven counties would share another $26.1 million to assist with courthouse renovations and repairs across the state.
Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), a Senior House Appropriations Committee co-chair, noted North Carolina’s strong economic growth under Republican-led budgets that spend responsibly and lower tax burdens.
“Our people are working and being productive, providing for their families,” Rep. Lambeth said. “North Carolina has passed 18 states in teacher pay rankings with the second highest teacher pay in the Southeast. We continue to invest in our families, in our parks, our ports, and our business infrastructure. We are being good stewards of taxpayer money.”
Rep. Lambeth noted that the State Employees Association of North Carolina is urging legislators to support the state budget.
“We are proud to stand with SEANC to recognize our state employees,” Rep. Lambeth said.
The legislature’s only active public school teacher and a House Education Committee co-chair, Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkes), said a consistent run of teacher pay raises have overcome pay freezes instituted last decade.
“We have a focus on our veteran teachers in this budget and teacher recruitment bonuses for smaller counties,” Rep. Elmore said.
Hurricane recovery needs are also addressed in several parts of the state budget proposal.
House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne) noted the budget continues to fund critical disaster recovery needs, including repairs of education facilities.
“This package is about $112 million in disaster relief funding,” Majority Leader Bell said Wednesday. “Additional funding goes in for stream and debris removal, replacement of emergency response equipment, and additional search and rescue grants needed to respond to disasters. It also provides funds for flood mapping and monitoring for flood-prone areas. This is another big key in the mitigation process, identifying those areas and making sure we monitor them before, after, and during a storm.”
Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), a Senior House Appropriations Committee co-chair, noted the spending plan makes a major commitment to the state’s savings reserve after natural disasters required significant transfers from the Rainy Day Fund.
“We transfer an additional $710 million into the savings reserve account, replenishing all but $46 million of the $756 million transferred for the Hurricane Florence Recovery Fund, bringing the total anticipated balance of our savings to $1.96 billion by 2021,” Rep. Saine said. “We are preparing for the next rainy day.”
The General Assembly’s budget provides $75 million of additional grant funding to support commercial airports, $23 million for rail infrastructure, and another $11 million to the Port of Wilmington specifically to raise power lines across the Cape Fear River.
“The North Carolina Ports Authority is an exciting story,” Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston), a transportation budget writer, said Wednesday. “We have invested heavily in our ports and they are doing things people said would never happen. Our investments in new cranes, deeper basins, and better resources will double the output of our ports, powering this economic engine for North Carolina.”
Another $15 million would support the Growing Rural Economies With Access to Technology (GREAT) broadband program, which has already awarded $10 million of grant funding to facilitate high-speed internet access in underserved regions.
Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Pitt), a physician serving eastern North Carolina, noted a massive investment in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University was included in the budget plan.
“Funding for the new medical school in eastern North Carolina, which has been a priority of mine since coming here, will be included with $200 million for what is perceived to be the cost of that project,” said Rep. Murphy said.
The state budget also increases the standard deduction or ‘zero tax bracket’ for working families to increase their take-home pay, and reduces the franchise tax to continue attracting businesses to North Carolina’s rapidly growing economy.
“We worked with the senate to take a balanced approach to the finance package,” said Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie), a House Finance Committee co-chair. “This will make a significant impact for the families of our state, for jobs and the economy, for big and small businesses around the state.”
Capital construction projects and investments in rural broadband are also a major focus of the state budget proposal.
Rep. Dean Arp, a House Appropriations Committee co-chair, said the new State Capital Infrastructure Fund is a “commonsense” approach to construction projects.
“In 2017 we began this historic transformation in the way we invest responsibly in growing North Carolina and addressing our needs,” Rep. Arp said.
“The surpluses we’ve received have been used to infuse an additional $300 million into a K-12 building fund that will provide $1.5 billion for K-12 school needs, and an additional $400 million for community colleges.”
“This represents the full amount of the House budget proposal of $1.9 billion, but it does so with cash. This is truly a historic investment in our future.”
Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said the budget’s balanced investments give North Carolinians confidence in the financial security of their state.
“This budget reflects the kitchen table priorities of families – to spend carefully, save wisely, balance essential needs, and focus on the future,” Speaker Moore said.
“This is a plan that is fiscally sound, lives within our means, and lays out a vision for an even brighter future in North Carolina.”
“Our revenue surpluses and record savings reserve were no accident. We plan ahead and prepare, like families and businesses. Our state is benefitting from the smart choices of strong budget leadership, and this is another spending plan all North Carolinians can be proud of.”
The North Carolina House is scheduled to vote again on the proposed budget Thursday.