Late last night the General Assembly released the Joint Conference Committee Report on the Budget (Money Report) and the Conference Committee Substitute for House Bill 1030 (Special Provisions). These two documents detail the proposed adjustments to North Carolina’s FY 2016-17 budget.
After many long days and nights, the budget is finally done. The Conference Committee reconciled the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget, and it was publicly released. This conferenced version of the budget cannot be amended. When it comes to the House floor, there will simply be two, roll call votes.
With a document of this size and complexity, there are sure to be some errors, such as wrong dates or statute citations. Any such issues will most likely be resolved in a budget technical corrections bill, which will be considered later.
The balanced budget appropriates $22.3 billion for the fiscal year, an increase of 2.8% from last year’s budget. The budget strives to make up for the cuts made during the great recession, while working to build up our reserves and pay off any debt.
This budget adds $473.6 million to the State’s savings reserve, bringing it to nearly $1.6 billion, or 7.3% of the annual budget. The budget keeps $71 million in reserve for future benefits needs for the State Health Plan and funds all State retirement systems at actuarially determined levels. Furthermore, this budget pays off all of a $38 million federal loan issued during the 90’s, saving the State $44.7 million in interest payments.
The budget bill continues to provide tax reform by increasing the standard deduction by $1,000 for married couples filing jointly, a tax cut of $145 million, saving a median income earning NC family $110 a year. This tax cut is counter-balanced by a $22.4 million sales tax base expansion that closes tax loopholes – hopefully making the sales tax more fair for businesses.
North Carolina teachers will receive an average 4.7% pay increase, bringing the average annual salary of North Carolina teachers to over $50,000. State retirees will receive a 1.6% one-time cost-of-living supplement. Most state employees will receive a 1.5% salary increase, a .5% bonus, and be eligible for a merit-based bonus – equivalent to a 1% average. Most Judicial branch employees will receive a 4.5% salary increase.
Below are a few budget items that will affect Western North Carolina.
Western Agricultural Center
$3,000,000 is allocated for the repair and renovation of the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center and an additional $500,000 for an events and restroom building. (Page 214, Line 40-41 of the Special Provisions)
WNC Farmer’s Market Improvements
$3,000,000 is allocated for the repair and renovations at the WNC Farmer’s Market, including repair of the parking lot. There are additional capital funds for the construction of a new facility and infrastructure to support Farmer’s Market programs. (Page 214, Line 45-46 of the Special Provisions)
DuPont State Recreational Forest
Provides $629,335 in recurring funds to support 9 positions and associated operating expenses at DuPont State Recreational Forest and $3,000,000 for the construction and improvement of additional bathrooms, utility, and the parking lot. (Page H 4, Item 4 of the Money Report and Page 209, Line 22-23 of the Special Provisions)
NC Promise Tuition Plan
Reduces the tuition at Western Carolina University, along with UNC – Pembroke and Elizabeth City State University, to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students beginning with the 2018 fall academic semester and authorizes up to $40 million to off-set the tuition “buy-down.” (Page 55, Line 14-38 of the Special Provisions)
Western School of Medicine–Asheville
Provides $8,000,000 in non-recurring funds to build a building for the new medical school, and $3,000,000 in continuing funding to support administration, faculty, and related programs (Page F 22, Item 60 of the Money Report and Page 209, Line 45 of the Special Provisions)
Western School of Engineering and Technology
Provides $130,000 in recurring and $500,000 in non-recurring funds for project management and curriculum development at the Western School of Engineering and Technology, which was funded in 2016 in the Connect NC Bond. (Page F 23, Item 66 in the Money Report)
Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF)
Provides an additional $8,600,000 for the CWMTF. (Page H 47, Item 62 of the Money Report)
Natural Heritage Program
Restores $314,726 in funding for 4.10 positions that was cut last year. (Page H 47, Item 61 of the Money Report)
$3,000,000 is provided to purchase an airplane and heavy equipment to be used for firefighting. (Page H 4, Item 3 of the Money Report)
Provides $500,000 for international marketing of North Carolina agricultural products. (Page H 3, Item 6 of the Money Report)
Forest Development Fund
Provides $75,000 to be used for hardwood and soft-hardwood forestation projects. (Page H 3, Item 5 of the Money Report)
$1,553,733 is provided to operate 3 new Multi-Campus Centers. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College will receive $517,911. (Page F 15, Item 38 of the Money Report)
$500,000 is provided to Western North Carolina-based Muddy Sneakers to support and expand its experiential learning programs to improve the science aptitude for 5th graders through supplemental, hands-on field instruction of the State science standards. (Page F 9, Item 26 of the Money Report)
Western Crime Lab
The State is completing work on the Western Crime Lab in Edneyville. The lab now needs to be equipped. There is $1,087,803 in the budget to buy equipment and $301,276 for a technician, scientific supplies, increased maintenance and utility costs. (Page I 13, Item 18 of the Money Report)