|The most important bill passed each year is the State Budget. The bill allocates around $24 billion of the money we pay in taxes in public education, health, public safety, and for other public purposes. The budget is a two-year spending plan and covers fiscal years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Typically, legislators will amend the two-year budget at its halfway point in next year’s session.
In North Carolina, each chamber alternates every two years which chamber gets first crack at writing the budget. This year, the House approved their budget first. Now it’s the Senate that is writing its version. Later this year, the two chambers will form a conference committee made up of members appointed by leadership to hammer out the differences. That version of the budget bill will then be subject to a vote in the House and Senate.
At this point the State Budget goes to the Governor who can sign it into law or veto it. If he vetoes, legislators can try to override the Governor’s veto or work out a new budget agreeable to him.
Earlier this month the State House passed its version of the State Budget (House Bill 966) on a 61 to 55 vote. I voted No.
All budgets have good and bad points, and this one is no different, but the bad outweighs the good in these key areas:
No Medicaid Expansion
Medicaid expansion will close the coverage gap for 500,000 North Carolinians and will help people lead healthier and better lives. It will help struggling rural hospitals and create health care jobs. No state that has expanded Medicaid has reversed course, but HB 966 does not include Medicaid expansion. I supported a motion to send the bill back to committee so Medicaid expansion could be included, but it failed.
A Tale of Two Teacher Raises
HB 966 increases teacher pay, and that is a good thing. Budget writers say it is an average 4.6% increase, but there’s a catch. In a highly unusual move, the pay raises do not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020, rather than July 1, 2019. This means teachers have to wait six months for the raise.
Limited Investments in Public School Resources
HB 966 makes some investments in important areas of our public schools, but I am disappointed that it repeatedly falls short while overfunding voucher programs that divert public money to private schools. I supported amendments to transfer voucher money to textbooks, digital resources, and local public schools, but those amendments were defeated.
Clean Water and Emerging Compounds
The NC Department of Environmental Quality requested $6 million in new funds to fight the growing problem of emerging compounds like Gen X in our drinking water. The House budget funds one-tenth of that request. I voted for an amendment to increase our investment in clean water, but it failed to pass.
Missed Opportunity to Invest in Community Colleges and Workforce Development
I supported amendments to invest in Finish Line Grants to help community college students finish school and in NC GROW community college scholarships for students pursuing in-demand degrees. Both amendments were defeated and are not funded in HB 966.
Tax Cuts for the Working Poor Instead of Wealthy Corporations
HB 966 cuts the franchise tax that corporations pay. I supported an amendment to keep the tax the same for businesses worth more than $250,000 and to use those funds to reinstate the state Earned Income Tax Credit that benefits low-income working families.
“Slap in the Face” State Employee and Retiree Compensation
· Pay raise of 1% or $500, whichever is greater, for state employees.
· Pay raises do not start until Jan. 1, 2020.
· Retirees receive a 1% one-time payment, but not until Jan. 1, 2020.
Funding for Rural Job Creation Falls Short
There is good news in the House budget, such as $30 million for rural broadband, but we missed an opportunity to invest $26 million in locally-identified economic development projects, such as $1 million for the Appalachian Theater.