RALEIGH --Senate Republicans say their North Carolina government budget proposal puts even more money aside in reserve to soften economic downturns than the House spending plan did.
Senate leaders laid out more details Tuesday of their $22.2 billion plan to adjust the second year of the current two-year budget. The entire spending plan was expected to be released in the evening, with floor votes anticipated for later in the week.
"Helping our public schools and teachers, letting families keep more of their hard-earned money, and controlling the spiraling cost of college are the issues we hear about the most from people all across North Carolina," said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
The Senate budget would put another $583 million in the state's rainy day reserves, raising it toward $1.7 billion.
The Senate also would give performance-based bonuses and raises to state employees, rather than the House's across-the-board increases.
"I am proud of my Senate colleagues for crafting a balanced and fiscally responsible budget that includes a plan to raise average teacher pay to $55,000, allows the typical North Carolina family to keep an additional $110 by making the first $17,500 of their income tax-free, and reduces tuition at five public universities to $1,000 per year while ensuring tuition does not increase at any UNC system school during a student's four years in college," Berger said.
As announced previously, average teacher pay would grow above $51,000 this coming fall in the Senate proposal.
Some additional key provisions of the budget include:
In Salaries and Benefits
Lays the foundation to dramatically increase average teacher pay from $47,783 to $54,224 over the next two years, which will provide North Carolina public school teachers an average $4,700 permanent pay raise over the same period and propel the state to the top of regional rankings. This is in addition to the generous teacher pay raises legislators passed in 2014 and 2015.
Offers experienced-based step increases to teachers, assistant principals, principals, State Highway Patrol troopers, clerks and magistrates and appropriates $16 million to boost pay for correctional officers.
Earmarks $95 million for permanent merit-based pay raises for state employees and another $85 million for one-time performance-based bonuses.
Includes $10 million for a pilot program to provide performance-based bonuses of up to $6,800 for 3rd grade reading teachers. $5 million would be available for the top 25 percent of teachers in each school district based on EVAAS growth scores, and an additional $5 million would be available to the top 25 percent of teachers on a statewide basis.
Increases funding for public education by more than $394 million.
Continues the Senate's commitment to lower class sizes in the early grades - a step research has repeatedly shown is key to academic success - by hiring close to 1,000 additional first and second grade teachers.
Establishes an opportunity scholarship grant fund reserve of $34.8 million to award more need-based scholarships to children from working families and provides forward funding to add 20,000 children to the program over the next ten years.
Invests $50 million in the lottery reserve to fund future local school building needs.
Guarantees no in-state tuition increases for a standard undergraduate college term (usually 4 years) at all North Carolina public universities, not only providing certainty to families who are budgeting for college costs and taxpayers who heavily subsidize tuition, but also additional incentive to students to complete their degrees on time. This tuition guarantee would also apply to active members of the military based in North Carolina.
Directs $300,000 on a recurring basis to administer the new Cheatham-White Merit Scholarship Program for students at North Carolina Central and N.C. A&T Universities.
In Taxes and Economic Development
Provides an immediate $145 million tax cut this year and an additional $205 million tax cut next year, mostly benefiting middle class families and small businesses.
Increases the zero percent tax bracket over the next two years - ensuring all North Carolina taxpayers, regardless of income, pay no state income taxes on more of their earnings.
In Health and Human Services
Repurposes a more than $300 million surplus in the Medicaid budget, made possible by Republican-led reforms that have gotten the chronically troubled program back on track.
Invests over $9 million to reform North Carolina's child welfare program by requiring additional training, providing more positions and expanding in-home services to support children's safety while keeping families together.
Funds nearly $500,000 for Zika prevention and detection.
Increases funding for the Strategic Transportation Investment (STI) law by over $32 million, which will allow new highway projects to be added over a ten-year period.
Allocates nearly $3 million to improve customer service and decrease wait times in high-volume DMV office locations.
Increases state assistance for urban and rural transit systems by $4 million and state aid to general aviation airports by $15 million.
In Justice and Public Safety
Makes strategic investments in public safety by providing $1.3 million to get the Western Crime Lab up and running and $640,000 for equipment upgrades in the other two crime labs.
Includes $2.1 million to help close out the longstanding backlog at the State Crime Lab once and for all.
Provides $250,000 to digitize mental health records to help streamline background checks for gun purchases.
Invests $500,000 for School Risk Management Plans to be developed in 835 public schools to help keep our children and teachers safe while they are at school.
In Agriculture and the Environment
Allocates over half a million dollars for international marketing of North Carolina agricultural products.
Increases funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund by $5 million.
Directs federal funds to a broadband initiative and water and sewer projects in public schools.
Improves government transparency by helping the office of the State Auditor conduct more specialized audits of state agencies and by implementing a new filing system for Statements of Economic Interest.
Establishes a cyber-security program for disabled veterans to develop their skills while protecting the state against cyber-attacks.
Pays off an outstanding $37 million loan from the federal government that Gov. Jim Hunt borrowed in 1999 and deferred payment on for over 15 years, saving the state $45 million in interest over the next 30 years.
Invests $12 million to implement state of the art software to ease tax filing for North Carolinians.
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