Raleigh, N.C. – Teacher and state employee pay raises, increased environmental protection and continued operational reforms are given high priority in Governor Pat McCrory’s short session recommended budget.
The proposed $20.99 billion budget is 1.7 percent more than the certified budget passed by the General Assembly last session. It does not include any new general tax increases.
“This budget invests in our people, our environment and continues the reforms that have put North Carolina back on the right track,” said Governor McCrory. “This budget is not painless, but it does increase opportunity, improve our quality of life and makes North Carolina a more affordable place to live.”
Investments in teacher and state employees, education and transportation will increase opportunity in North Carolina, according to the governor.
Teacher raises are a major component of education funding. The governor’s budget increases beginning teacher pay to $33,000 annually in the 2014-15 school year, a 7 percent increase. The governor has vowed to raise base pay to $35,000 for the 2015-16 academic year. Teachers who earn more than the base salary will receive raises ranging on the average from 2 to 4.3 percent for the upcoming school year.
The governor’s budget also restores a reformed master’s degree salary supplement for teachers who earn an advanced degree in the subject they teach.
Early education funding for pre-kindergarten is increased by $3.6 million. North Carolina’s Pre-K programs serve approximately 26,600 children. Responding to input from educators he has met during the past few months, the governor’s budget doubles spending on textbooks to $46.4 million.
Community colleges will receive $16.8 million in additional “Closing the Skills Gap” funding to provide training in high-demand fields such as such as health sciences, engineering, construction, manufacturing, transportation, chemical and biotechnology.
The University of North Carolina System will receive targeted investments such as $2 million in new funding for the Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institution at North Carolina State University. The budget also provides $3 million annually to help transition university research to the commercial marketplace.
Funding will be provided to the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to provide paid internships for HBCU students in the next school year. Many students at these schools do not have access to paid internship opportunities during the summer, and this pilot program would begin to establish relationships between private businesses and the HBCU’s in North Carolina.
In part because of decreased enrollment and access to alternative funding sources, efficiencies are targeted in the university system in order to be affordable and effective – both for the students and the taxpayers. However, Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University and Elizabeth City State University are exempted from reductions, as well as institutions previously exempted by the General Assembly.
The governor’s budget calls for the equivalent of in-state tuition at the state’s universities and community colleges for newly separated veterans who spent a portion of their career stationed at a military installation in North Carolina.
Governor McCrory’s budget lifts the pay freeze that has been imposed on teachers and other state employees in recent years. State employees will receive a $1,000 increase in benefits and salary. This across-the-board approach will provide greater financial gain to lower salaried employees. However, larger, targeted increases will be given to Highway Patrol officers, magistrates and deputy and assistant clerks of the court.
Job opportunities will be created through the budget’s transportation investments.
The governor’s budget creates job opportunities through the Department of Transportation’s Highway Fund, which will prioritize an additional $43 million for highway maintenance, preservation and resurfacing. The Highway Trust Fund’s Strategic Investment Program will increase by $57.9 million.
Additionally, the governor’s budget refines the Historic Rehabilitation Investment Program which encourages reinvestment in the state’s historic assets to revitalize cities and towns throughout North Carolina. This program has been shown to add jobs and give historic buildings new purposes.
Funding for the Oil and Gas Regulatory Program and Mining and Energy Commission is increased by 35 percent to ensure the exploration and production of energy is done in an environmentally responsible manner.
The budget also transfers the Animal Welfare section of the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Public Safety Law Enforcement Division to provide greater coordination with local law enforcement.
Quality of Life
Environmental protection, technology upgrades for the Department of Motor Vehicles and increased efforts to combat substance abuse and underage drinking are at the heart of the budget’s quality of life measures.
The governor’s budget directly addresses the problems with the storage and containment of coal ash. It requests 19 additional environmental inspectors for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to oversee coal ash ponds throughout the state. Funding is also provided for laboratory and field monitoring of coal ash ponds.
In addition, $3.46 million in recurring funds are provided to continue the cleanup of residential leaking underground storage tanks, as well as $1.3 million in new funds to support statewide aquatic weed control measures that protect our state’s drinking water, lakes and waterways.
The budget provides $6.8 million for water projects including dredging, navigation, flood control, beach protection and stream restoration. An additional $500,000 is provided for the preservation and enhancement of the Oregon Inlet’s navigability.
To improve the quality of a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), this budget pays for technology upgrades that will allow customers to access DMV services through self-service kiosks, tablet computers or smart phones, as well as through traditional call centers and offices.
Funding is also provided for the expansion of initiatives aimed at reducing substance abuse and underage drinking.
Savings and increased efficiencies are being used to balance the state’s checkbook. These saving and efficiencies include selling non-performing assets. For example, the Department of Transportation is selling an underutilized helicopter. The state is reviewing many of its policies to ensure they are fulfilling their goals.
In December, all state agencies were asked to find operational savings of 2 percent. This budget requests additional efficiencies from many departments and agencies including the Governor’s Office, the Department of Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Revenue, the Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina System.
Despite tight fiscal times, the governor’s budget provides for prudent contingencies. It adds $50 million to the state’s Savings Reserve Account. The budget creates a $50 million Medicaid Risk Reserve. An additional $50 million is deposited in the Repair and Renovation fund to ensure safe buildings throughout the university system and state government.
Additionally, the governor’s budget sets aside $100 million to cover any unknown contingencies that may arise during the next fiscal year.