RALEIGH, N.C.(AP/WNCN) – Republicans have reached a deal on adjustments to North Carolina’s state budget for the upcoming fiscal year that contains pay raises for teachers and state employees.
Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and other GOP legislators announced details on the agreement Monday night. The two chambers will vote on the compromise measure in the coming days.
“I’m proud that members of the Senate and House have reached a compromise that continues the discipline and conservative principals of spending responsible taxing sparingly and saving wisely that has North Carolina’s fiscal outlook around in the last 5 years,” said Senator Phil Berger.
“Look at where we were six years ago, double digit unemployment, nearly $3 billion budget deficit, billions in debt to the federal government, and some of the highest taxes in the south east,” said Representative Tim Moore.
Budget-writer Rep. Nelson Dollar says average pay raises for teachers will be 4.7 percent, with the increases weighted toward mid-career and veteran instructors. Rank-and-file workers would get at least 1.5 percent raises and small bonuses. There’s also money for merit-based raises.
More personal income wouldn’t be subject to taxes this calendar year and next.
A proposed tuition cut for some University of North Carolina campuses will include one historically black university after weeks of push and pull from educators, students and lawmakers.
House and Senate leaders announced Monday night as part of the General Assembly’s budget compromise that tuition cuts to $500 per semester for in-state students would apply to students at Elizabeth City State University in addition to Western Carolina University and University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
The original proposal included two other historically black universities, but its sponsor scaled back the bill responding to push back from students and alumni who say lower tuition could cheapen the quality of their degrees.
Senate leader Phil Berger said leaders thought Elizabeth City State would benefit from the enrollment increases low tuition would prompt.
Republican leaders touted the accomplishments of the spending plan.
However, Democratic members of the House of Representatives tell CBS North Carolina they were left out of the budget process.
“We did not get to help shape the final bill and we did not see it. The conferees did not get to see it before it was released to the press the majority has had a press conference, is my understanding, at 7pm we still have not seen the bill because we were in session,” said Representative Larry Hall.
Democratic leader of the House of Representatives Larry Hall says he understands Republicans have a super majority, but says that’s no reason not to include Democrats in decision making
“We shouldn’t be shut out of the process. Our citizens should not be shut out of the process. We do have idea that do end up saving the people of North Carolina money and they should be heard,” said Hall.
The budget still must be voted on and approved by both The House and the Senate.
Gov. Pat McCrory would be asked to sign the final budget, which takes effect July 1, into law.
Highlights of the budget agreement include:
TEACHER PAY: The budget plan calls for the average teacher pay to increase from $47,783 to $54,224 over the next three years.
RAISES FOR STATE EMPLOYEES: The budget includes a pay increase of 1.5% and a 0.5% bonus for state employees. It also includes over $80 million for bonuses. Retirees would see a 1.6 percent cost of living bonus for retirees. Employees including State Highway Patrol Troopers, correctional officers, public defenders and magistrates would also see pay increases.
EDUCATION FUNDING: Overall, education funding would increase by $512 million in this budget plan, lawmakers say. The budget calls for the hiring of about 450 additional first grade teachers in order to lower class sizes in early grades. It also fully funds teacher assistant positions at the 2014-2015 level. The plan calls for $10 million to support technology infrastructure improvements and teacher professional development.
SCHOOL SAFETY: A half-million dollars in funding have been set allocated for School Risk Management Plans in 835 public schools.
TUITION: The budget freezes student fees at all North Carolina public universities at current levels. It also limits future increases to no more than 3% per academic year. In order to help families budget for college costs, the budget guarantees no in-state tuition increases for a “standard undergraduate college term” at all public universities in the state. The proposal to lower tuition, which had been controversial, would apply to Elizabeth City State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Western Carolina University. The tuition plan would lower tuition at those universities to $1,000 per year for in-state students.
TAX CUTS: Lawmakers say a tax cut of $145 million this year, combined with $205 more in cuts next year, will benefit the middle class and small businesses. The budget also
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Over 50 cities and towns across the state will share $5.75 million in grants for downtown revitalization. Lawmakers also want to take advantage of “opportunities in Asian markets,” and have set aside almost $4 million in order to set up a new international job recruiting office in the Department of Commerce.
ZIKA FUNDING: $500,000 has been allocated for Zika prevention and detection.
MEDICAID: Republican leaders are taking credit for reforms to the Medicaid program, saying that a $300 million surplus can now be repurposed.
CHILD WELFARE: The budget includes money to reform the state’s child welfare program. $9 million will be set aside for training, additional positions, and expanding in-home services.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE:Lawmakers plan to detect and fight prescription drug abuse by building a stronger reporting system for controlled substances.
MENTAL HEALTH: The budget plans to use money from the sale of the Dorothea Dix property for services for the mentally ill. This includes $18 million to expand inpatient services in rural areas and $2 million to establish crisis centers for children.
DMV: The budget allocates $3+ million to decrease wait times at targeted high-volume DMV office locations.
HIGHWAY TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS: Over $32 million is planned for the Strategic Transportation Investment law, which will be used on highway projects over a ten-year span.
RAIL PROJECTS: The budget plan calls for nearly $14 million to be spent on improvements to freight rail tracks, safety, and access. It also repeals a half-million-dollar cap on state funding for some light rail projects.
TECHNOLOGY IMPROVEMENTS: Lawmakers want to improve tax filing for North Carolinians. They plan to invest $12 million to implement new software for this purpose.
CRIME LAB FUNDING: The budget plan includes $2.1 million in funding to address the backlog at the State Crime Lab. Lawmakers also aim to upgrade crime labs with equipment upgrades. They also want to get the Western Crime Lab up and running.
BACKGROUND CHECKS: Lawmakers want to digitize mental health records in an effort to streamline background checks for gun purchases. They’ve allocated a quarter of a million dollars for this.
ENVIRONMENT: The budget calls for an $8.6 million increase in funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.
DISASTER RELIEF: The budget adds $10 million to the Disaster Relief Fund.
OUTSTANDING DEBT: Lawmakers have set aside money to pay off an outstanding loan of $37 million. They say that this will save the state $45 million in interest over the next 30 years. Legislators say the loan is money Gov. Jim Hunt borrowed in 1999.
WANT TO KNOW MORE? See updates on the budget legislation (House Bill 1030) by clicking here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.