Moving ahead on the long-awaited state budget
Published 5:46 pm Friday, November 19, 2021
Congratulations are in order for state lawmakers and the governor on finally, begrudgingly agreeing on a state budget! The bar was really low, but they managed to stumble across it this week.
Well, as of the day I’m writing this column, it isn’t quite official yet. But Gov. Cooper stated he would sign the budget, despite some misgivings, because “this is a time when the state must move ahead.”
If you don’t keep up with the inner workings of state government on a daily basis, you might have missed that this will be North Carolina’s first budget in over two years. The last time they tried to pass a budget, the legislature and the governor couldn’t manage to reach any sort of agreement, and neither side was willing to budge on their position.
It was looking like this time might be a repeat of the same thing again. The budget was due several months ago, and North Carolina is the only state left in the country to pass one. But apparently negotiations went better this time around, and it looks like this one might go through.
So what’s in the $25.9 billion budget that will cover the next two years? I haven’t had a chance to sort entirely through the 600+ page budget document (or 700+ page accompanying money report) yet, so I checked out what other news organizations have reported.
WUNC (North Carolina Public Radio) has a brief overview of some of the budget’s biggest points. According to their reporting, the state will add $2.5 billion to the “rainy day” fund. A total of $150 million will be allocated for testing and remediation of lead and asbestos from public school and child care facilities. And there will be funding provided to kickstart a move of the UNC System offices to Raleigh (from their current location in Chapel Hill).
Additionally, the state’s personal income tax rate will be reduced in increments over the next six years.
For a more detailed breakdown of business-related budget news, I checked out Business NC’s website. Perhaps the biggest news is the plan to eventually eliminate the state’s corporate income tax, though it isn’t scheduled to start being phased out until 2025. (So that could very well be changed in future budgets, depending on who’s in charge.)
Other business highlights include a provision to allow tax deductions for businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program loans, $283 million to expand Wilmington Harbor, $120.5 million for a State Small Business Credit Initiative (NC Rural Center will be in charge of handling that), and $1 billion for broadband expansion projects.
I’m personally hoping the broadband funding will help continue local efforts here to provide service to our rural area, as it’s an increasingly vital resource that many would benefit from.
Education NC (EdNC) was my source for school-related parts of the budget. Most notable is, of course, the five percent pay raise for teachers, along with some extra money for teacher supplements. Those teacher supplements will come from a $100 million allocation that will be spread out to 95 “low-wealth” counties. EdNC’s estimated total allocations for our local counties are $790,895 for Bertie, $750,825 for Gates, $993,662 for Hertford, and $534,054 for Northampton.
Other interesting education-related points include funding for an additional 115 school psychologist positions across the state, an additional $10 million in funding to Smart Start, looser restrictions for the Opportunity Scholarship program, elimination of the Innovative School District, and almost $150 million to the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund in the next two years. (Locally, allocations from that fund previously helped finance an addition to Central Middle School in Gates County and construct the new Ahoskie Elementary School in Hertford County).
EdNC also reported that the budget did not address the $1.7 billion requested to fund the comprehensive Leandro plan, despite a recent court order for lawmakers to provide funding. Leandro is a court case dating back to the 1990s where families from five low-wealth counties sued the state because they felt their students did not have the same educational opportunities as students in higher-income districts. They won the case, but the funding to rectify those issues for a sound, basic education hasn’t been implemented yet.
As for local impacts from the budget, I’m still looking through everything to find what’s included for the Roanoke-Chowan area. Perhaps the biggest thing is that Northampton County will be receiving $14 million to construct a new courthouse. And Odom Prison, located outside of Jackson, will also be conveyed to the county since the state isn’t using it anymore.
This is really my first time getting to look through state budget documents, since I was just starting out as a reporter during the last time we had a budget. It’s interesting to me, if not a bit mind-boggling to think about all those zeroes.
I know this is my opinion column, but I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whether this is a “good” or “bad” budget themselves. Maybe it’s too much money for one particular thing, or not enough for another. Check it out for yourself to learn more.
I suppose the only thing left to say is this: better late than never, right?
Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7206.