NC House teases budget

While full details have yet to be revealed, House Appropriations committees released highlights of spending priorities as a final plan is expected in coming days

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Speaker Tim Moore convenes a special session of the North Carolina House of Representatives in the historic chambers inside the Old State Capitol building in Raleigh on Wednesday

RALEIGH — The N.C. House of Representatives unveiled a preview of their budget plan Thursday as House appropriations committees met to finalize and approve their respective portions of the spending proposal. The total spending number for the 2017-2018 fiscal year matches that of the earlier N.C. Senate proposal at $22.9 billion, representing a 2.5 percent increase over last year’s appropriations and about half the growth in spending proposed by Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this year.

“Taxpayers funds belong to the citizens who worked for them and they expect us to be good stewards of their hard-earned tax dollars just as they are with money for their families and businesses,” said Senior Appropriations Committee Chairman Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) “Our goal is to set the right priorities and ensure our citizens’ tax dollars are spent wisely in ways that will improve our schools, grow our economy and improve the quality of life for all North Carolinians.”

Budget highlights for each of the House Appropriations committees were released and are summarized below. The preview did not include any mention of tax reductions or teacher pay raises, both focal points of the full senate budget proposal.

Taxpayer watchdogs such as Americans for Prosperity applauded the aggregate spending figure as it tracked growth in population plus inflation, while encouraging the House to include the Senate’s billion-dollar tax cut package and eliminate “corporate welfare” programs such as the Job Development Investment Grant.

“This spending agreement signals the legislature’s eagerness to sustain North Carolina’s economic growth,” said Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina State Director Donald Bryson. “Though we’re still awaiting the details of the budget, I anticipate the House will deliver more good news as the budget takes shape. In the coming days we look forward to reviewing the House’s budget proposal.”

Highlights of House Education Budget included fully funding K-12 enrollment growth, raising the funding cap for Children with Disabilities, and increasing Textbooks and Digital Materials funding.

Special provisions for K-12 education include establishing business advisory councils that will assist school districts in providing CTE instruction, identify, economic and workforce development trends in the region, and advocate for strong local CTE programs. Under the House plan community colleges will get funding to support the expansion of the NC Works Career Coaches program, funding to assist colleges with start-up costs for high-cost workforce training programs leading to employment in higher-paying and in-demand fields, and assume responsibility for the transfer of the Apprenticeship NC program from the Department of Commerce.

Highlights of UNC System appropriations include additional funding for the ECU Brody School of Medicine and the establishment of a Teaching Fellows program that offers forgivable loans up to $8,250 per year to students interested in entering teaching in STEM or special education fields.

The Justice and Public Safety budgets include funding for an opioid abuse pilot program, funding for additional State Highway Patrol troopers, as well as funding for body-worn cameras.

Transportation appropriations include funds for the modernization of sea ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, as well as increased funding for ferry operations, and a host of infrastructure improvement projects and programs.

In the Health and Human Services space, highlights include increasing the number of funded pre-K slots, further subsidizing childcare in the poorest counties, and recurring funding to purchase opioid antagonists for overdoses.

The budget highlights also included funding for bolstering firefighting equipment for the Forest Service after the damaging wildfires of 2016, funding for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund, and funding for a new Site and Building Development Fund.

The N.C. House is expected to reveal the full budget in the coming days and hold budget votes next week. Even as the House budget plan clears that chamber, both the House and Senate proposals will have to be reconciled and the resulting final proposal voted on again. Lawmakers have said they intend to complete all of that process and adjourn for the year by mid to late June.