April showers bring May flowers…and budget negotiations
Each odd year, in the long session of the legislative biennium, the Governor releases his/her budget to the legislature—kicking off the budget making process. The House and Senate alternate crafting their own budget versions and 2015 was the House’s turn to go first. After months of informational committee meetings and behind the scenes negotiations, the House budget was released on Monday, May 18. The next day the full Appropriations committee (composed of dozens of Appropriations subcommittees’ members) reviewed the budget over 12 hours and proposed 104 amendments. From there the budget went to the Finance, the Retirement and Pensions, and the Rules committees for debate/amendment before coming to the House at 3:00 p.m. on May 21. The third and final vote would be taken more than 10 hours and 46 additional amendments later. The 329 page budget bill passed 93-23.<
Why I voted for the House Budget
Education, education, education. I know that this issue is of utmost importance to residents in District 41. I know because you’ve told me. You’ve told me multiple times since fall 2013. You’ve told me at forums, at your doorways and (ultimately) at the polls. And I’ve heard you loud and clear.
The House budget is heavy on public education support and investment. It fully funds enrollment growth for K-12 and the University system. It increases starting teacher pay from $33,000 to $35,000 (not as high we all want to see, but a start). It fully funds the teacher pay scale for step raises. It gives all teachers a 2% raise (not as much as we would hope to see, but again, a start). It more than doubles funding for textbooks and digital learning. It does not cut the current number of teaching assistants. It restores funding to the Driver’s Ed program.
Other budget winners are state employees (a 2% salary increase), senior citizens (reinstatement of the tax deduction for medical expenses to match the federal tax deduction, nearly $1 million annually for the next two years to the Home and Community Care Block Grant), state government retirees (a 2% COLA), the arts (funding for the NC Museum of Art and NC Symphony), families and children (increase in the child care subsidy, removal of current income limits for familial foster parents, resumption of prorated subsidy for part time child care, block grants to health departments for programs to improve birth outcomes), mental health (increased number of 3-way psych beds, an increase in psych beds at Central Prison), roads, ports and bridges (modernization and increased sustainability of infrastructure funding), veterans ($2M for community college tuition assistance, a new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs in the Governor’s office) and economic development and jobs (increased funding for JDIG, historic preservation tax credits). We also made a $250M payment into the Rainy Day Fund bringing the fund balance to $850M.
There are also some missed opportunities in the House budget. 2013 tax code changes meant that we had less revenue to put into the 2015 budget. With more revenue we could have increased beginning teacher pay more than $2000/year and funded a sustainable plan to raise teacher pay to at least the national average. With more revenue we could have replaced 7000 teaching assistants that were cut in 2013. With more revenue we could have reinstated the Earned Income Tax credit, needed by 1M North Carolinians who could then put those dollars back in the economy. Among other missed opportunities were solar energy (tax credits for one additional year only and a freeze of the required renewable energy portfolio at the current 6%) and film industry incentives (current grant program only slightly increased).
At the end of the day, I decided to vote for the budget because of what was in it rather than to vote against it because of what it lacked.
Now, on to the Senate
No budget is perfect. I think the House budget as proposed, along with its 150+ amendments, could do many good things for education, transportation and economic development. As good as I feel about my budget vote, I know that this is the beginning and not the end. The House budget has gone to the Senate where substantive changes are expected. When the budget comes back to us—and if we do not concur with the Senate’s changes—it will go a conference committee. The resulting budget bill will then require the REAL budget vote. I hope that winners in the current House budget will also be winners in the final budget, so that the real winners will be the state of North Carolina and our citizens.
Thank you for continuing to write to me about the issues that you care about.