Pieces of the House Budget Puzzle Fall Into Place

May 14, 2015

Credit Dave DeWitt / WUNC

North Carolina House representatives are introducing parts of their two year spending plan.

Education, Health and Human Services, transportation, and judicial appropriation committee meetings take place throughout Thursday as policy makers begin to digest parts of a $21 billion state spending plan.

This stop in the budget process is analogous to a pre-meal snack. The one before you head out for a late dinner, prior to the appetizer and well before the main course. House lawmakers introduced components of a spending plan today. The full House plan should come out late Sunday.

“Well we’re at the very early stages right now. So ask me in 48 hours and I’ll have a lot more to say,” chuckled Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam.

The largest piece of the budget pie belongs to education. Here are some of the initial takeaways on funding for public schools.

  • NC Elevating Educators Act of 2015 – After initially stalling in the House, this proposal is in the initial budget blueprint. It would promote differentiated pay among teachers, establish advanced teaching roles of some teachers and could potentially increase class size. Right now, it is drafted at $15 million over two years.
  • Textbooks and Digital Resources – Would allocate another $50 million for  textbooks and digital resources, bringing total state funding to$74.3
  • Driver Training – This provision restores $26 million in state support for driver training programs for one more year
  • Charter School Accelerator – This component supports pilot program administered by PEFNC (Parents for Educational Freedom) to accelerate charter school development in rural North Carolina. Total: $1 million
  • Opportunity Scholarships – Increases funds from $6.8 to $17.6 million for the 2015-16 academic year.

Meanwhile, Health and Human Services is the other major area of appropriations. Spending for Medicaid, the state-funded insurance program for people of low income, falls under that department.

The initial House budget proposal for the state health department would increase funding for Medicaid by $748.1 million over the next two years.  The proposed DHHS budget would set aside $6.3 million over the next two years to reform North Carolina's Medicaid program, which grows every year and is one of the state's biggest expenditures. However, House budget writers have not specified how they would reform the program. Additionally, this proposal sets up to $25 million aside from the sale of the state's 308-acre Dorothea Dix property in Raleigh to convert rural hospital beds for mental health patients. 

“The appropriations committee members and the chairs are working diligently – many of them were here last night working very late and a lot of them will be here for a long time today,” said House Speaker Tim Moore.

Democrats took issue with some elements of the spending plan.

“Not just this year, but going forward – are we on track to get to that national average? We say we want to be competitive. Are we on track to get to that national average? Are we restoring the funding cuts we took out,” asked minority House Leader Larry Hall

Details on any salary adjustments for teachers are expected in the full House spending proposals, which is due out late Sunday.

“There are some token things done in the budget. As someone said maybe it’s 'feel good or look good,' but if you look beneath it – we are not doing what we need to do and be responsible to the citizens of North Carolina," Hall said.

Hall would like to see Republican leadership put the projected $400 million projected surplus toward education.

Other spending proposals include:

  • Around $17 million in recurring increased funding for North Carolina Courts to cover general operations, juries and expert witnesses.
  • $75 million to the State Ports Authority for channeling dredging, and equipment upgrades in Wilmington and Morehead City.

This spending plan comes two months after the Governor’s budget was released. After the House votes on a final budget, the Senate will introduce its draft in about a month. The chambers will then work to find middle ground. The long session will adjourn sometime this summer.