For the first time since 2017, North Carolina has a budget.
Gov. Roy Cooper somewhat reluctantly signed the $25.9 billion budget today (Thursday). The state budget increases by 4.3 percent over the last biennial budget, with an increase to $27 billion in 2022-23. The state’s fund balance will grow to $4.25 billion by the end of 2023.
Included in the biennial budget is $50.1 million for projects in Columbus County.
County officials will hold a press conference Friday morning to detail where the state funding will go here. Among the projects, Rep. Brenden Jones said in a social media post, are flood relief, a science, technology and math lab at the community college, funding for the ongoing rehabilitation of the courthouse, and a new building for the sheriff’s office.
Most of those earmarks have been held up as Cooper and the Republican-dominated General Assembly bogged down over a series of issues. Cooper has held firm in Medicaid expansion throughout his time in the governor’s mansion. Although expanding free health care is not in the budget, there are provisions to create a Joint Legislative Study Committee on Access to Healthcare. The committee will be required to report to the General Assembly next year. Access to alternative at-home and community care programs will see more state funding. Maternity leave benefits are extended in the budget.
Teachers will receive a 6.7 percent pay increase over the next two years, and other state employees will get five percent. The budget also includes bonuses for teachers and state employees. Non-certified employees in community colleges and public schools will have a new minimum wage of $13 per hour. Cooper previously vetoed teacher pay raises proposed by Republicans.
Individual tax rates will also decrease from 5.25 to 3.99 percent over six years. Corporate taxes – which Cooper and Democrats have fought to raise – will be phased our by 2031.
Cooper said Tuesday that he would likely sign the budget, which was passed with a veto-proof majority in both houses. He praised the bipartisan effort that created the final product as well as some of the big picture goals it funds, but chided conservatives of both parties for not expanding state-funded healthcare to the extent demanded by Democrats.
“This budget moves North Carolina forward in important ways,” cooper said in a statement. “Funding for high speed internet, our universities and community colleges, clean air and drinking water and desperately needed pay increases for teachers and state employees are all critical for our state to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.
“I will continue to fight for progress where this budget falls short but believe that, on balance, it is an important step in the right direction.”
Columbus County News will have a report on Friday’s press conference and more on the WTXY midday report.