The N.C. Senate will be voting on Republican leaders’ budget proposal Thursday, and much of the debate will focus on teacher and state employee raises as well as income tax cuts – and the tension with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who wants a budget that spends more.
But there are lots of new state initiatives, and some budget cuts, tucked inside the 800-page document that was posted online late Tuesday night and passed three Senate committees in a matter of hours on Wednesday.
Here are some highlights:
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A new state agency: The Senate budget proposes a split in the N.C. Department of Public Safety, a Cabinet agency whose leader is appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper. Divisions of that agency that run the prison system and juvenile justice system would become a separate Cabinet agency, the N.C. Department of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. The Department of Public Safety would continue to oversee the Highway Patrol, State Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement functions.
The Senate’s press release says the change would “more effectively manage inmate custody and supervision statewide.”
It would be the second time in recent years that the state has created new Cabinet-level agencies. When Pat McCrory was governor, he elevated veteran’s affairs and information technology to become separate Cabinet agencies.
Cutting the UNC law school: The budget would slash funding for the UNC School of Law by $4 million, or 30 percent of the school’s current budget. Instead, the budget directs a total of $11 million in additional funding for the UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill and at its Asheville campus.
Budget documents don’t list reasons for the law school cut, but some senators have said in the past that the state needs doctors more than it needs lawyers.
Other budget cuts would include eliminating the Small Farms Program – which according to budget documents “provides outreach and education to small, limited-resource and minority farmers” – and the Office of Science, Technology and Innovation, which “administers policies and programs relating to the development of next-generation technology companies.”
The budget also calls for closing Durham’s Wright School for children with disabilities. The school is a perennial target in the Senate budget but has been spared in previous years’ compromise budgets
Recruiting tool for new teachers: While the budget would keep the starting teacher salary unchanged at $35,000, the Senate wants to add new incentives to draw talented college students to the profession.
A new program would entice what the budget calls “highly qualified” graduates of teacher training programs by giving them a higher starting salary. To qualify, new teachers would need to have a grade-point average of 3.75 or higher and score 48 or higher on a test called edTPA.
Most would start at the salary for a teacher with a full year of experience, or $35,840 under the Senate’s proposed salaries. Teachers in special education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics would start at the salary for a teacher with two years experience, or $36,350. And teachers working at schools categorized as “low performing” would start at the salary for a teacher with three years experience, or $36,880.
The budget also calls for reinstating the Teaching Fellows program, which under a Senate bill would offer about 160 people who want to be teachers up to $8,250 a year in forgivable college loans if they agree to teach science, math, engineering or technology, or become special education teachers. That program would be funded through an endowment.
More kids in preschool: The budget would add 2,350 additional spots in pre-kindergarten programs for low-income families, which Senate leaders say would cut the waiting list for the program in half with an $18 million allocation over two years.
Wind energy ban: The budget includes a three-year moratorium on wind energy projects to study the safety risks that wind farms pose to military installations. The provision is similar to Senate and House bills that haven’t had a hearing or vote yet.
The provision would stall, and potentially derail, the proposed Timbermill Wind farm in Chowan and Perquimans counties, a project totaling 105 turbines that would extend 600 feet into the sky.
Security for lieutenant governor: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who presides over the Senate, would get a personal security team of three N.C. Highway Patrol officers. While the governor has Highway Patrol protection, the lieutenant governor does not.
Seniors go to class: While it doesn’t come with a cost to the state, a budget provision would allow adults age 65 and older to audit state university and community college classes – to attend without course credit – with the instructor’s permission, and when space is available.
Medical insurance for retirees: A budget provision would limit access to medical insurance benefits for future state employees when they retire. The proposal wouldn’t affect current retirees.