Legislative Update April 2015

On March 5th, Gov. Pat McCrory released his proposed budget for the fiscal years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017.  It is some 300 pages long and appropriates $43.7 billion over the two-year period.  The 2016 budget, reflective of the McCrory administration’s budget priorities, represents an increase of about two percent over the current budget, constrained, in large measure, by tax cuts passed in previous years.  When one takes into account the requirements presented by enrollment growth in our schools, necessary Medicaid increases, and the like, it does not keep up with overall inflation.  In fact, when adjusted for inflation, our State budget remains below per-recession levels, which many say has contributed to a slower than average recovery in North Carolina.

The two largest areas of expenditures, by far, are education and health and human services, accounting for about 81 percent of the total for FY 2016. Justice and Public Safety follows at 11 percent.

It is impossible to review the entire budget here.  What I would like to do, however, is share with you my thoughts on some of those areas most important to Orange County residents, particularly education.  The news is mixed for education, particularly pay for our K-12 teachers.  One-third of North Carolina teachers will receive a raise under the budget plan, but that is only to bring minimum salaries up to $35,000/year.  While there are some adjustments affecting an additional 1,000 or so teachers, the vast majority will receive no raises under this plan.  As a result, North Carolina will remain near the bottom of the US in teacher pay – and state funds per student.

Higher education does not fare well either. Continuing a trend, UNC system funding is once again reduced, this time by about one percent.  When adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth, the effects of this cut on our higher education system are a serious concern.  Further, the McCrory budget proposes an increase of $4 per credit hour for our community colleges like Durham Technical Community College.  At a time when we are relying more and more on these institutions to prepare our residents for better-paying jobs, it is hard to understand the logic behind this move.

Much of the increase in proposed State funding goes to support necessary increases in Medicaid – due to inflation and enrollment increases.  It does not address the expansion of Medicaid permitted under the Affordable Care Act, which would provide health insurance coverage to an estimated 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians at little cost to the State.

On a more positive note, the budget does provide for significant improvements in mental health programs, with a total increase of about $82 million committed over the two-year budget period.

Overall, the proposed budget can best be characterized as “more of the same.”  Little growth, no commitment to improvement in our state’s K-12 educational system, continuing to deprive higher education of needed resources while continuing to require higher tuition, and continued unwillingness to meet the needs of many of our neighbors for health insurance coverage. In the coming weeks the Republican House leadership will release its version of the 2015-17 budget, as the General Assembly moves forward to enact a spending plan for the new biennium.  Stay tuned….

Please continue to contact my office to share your concerns on issues or if my office can be of any assistance to you.  Thank you for allowing me to represent you in Raleigh.

 

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