Lawmakers start process to form two-year budget

The legislature has received a budget proposal from Gov. Cooper, and now begins constructing its list of spending priorities

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RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly has its first joint appropriations meeting on Tuesday to review the base budget, revenue projections and begin laying the foundation for forming a new two-year budget in the coming months.Taxation expert from the nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division of the legislature Barry Boardman updated the joint committee on collection trends and what they say about the current economic condition. According to Boardman’s report, revenues from personal income taxes, sales taxes and corporate taxes are currently all ahead of initial projections.Additionally, lawmakers heard encouraging wage growth projections, with wages expected to increase 5.2 percent over the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and 5.7 percent over the 2018-2019 fiscal year.”Our economy is in a stronger position than it has been in quite sometime,” said Boardman. Last week, state economists announced they expect a total revenue surplus of more than half a billion dollars above original estimates.Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville), co-chair of the Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee, informed the committee that while some 30 states are facing budget shortfalls North Carolina is one of only four states to have a revenue surplus.The committee also reviewed key portions of Gov. Roy Cooper’s base budget proposal. The biennial budget provided by the governor serves as a starting point for budget negotiations.For fiscal year 2017-2018, the Cooper budget spends just above $22 billion, increasing to $22.2 billion in 2018-2019. It increases both teacher and state employees pay.However, much of the budget considerations to come will deal with allocating funds necessary to satisfy previous spending commitments, or other recurring funding requirements.For instance, the last two years of the legislature’s three-year plan to increase teacher pay passed during the 2016 session spills into 2017 budgeting process. Also, debt servicing of the $2 billion NC Connect Bond passed last year will cost taxpayers $24 million and $67 million over the next two fiscal years, respectively.Further plans for salary increases for state employees or cost of living adjustments for retirees that may emerge during the budget negotiations have predictable price tags. For every 1 percent increase to teacher pay, the legislature must allocate an additional $43 million annually. It will cost taxpayers an additional $85.5 million a year for every 1 percent increase in cost of living adjustments for state pensioners.A multitude of appropriations committees and sub-committees will convene in the coming weeks as the legislature crafts its own two-year budget proposal.