The Republican budget would provide a 1.9 percent increase in operating money for the UNC system, including several big-ticket items for UNC-Chapel Hill's medical programs and an environmental policy arm.
The N.C. Community College System budget would result in a 3.8 percent spending increase, including almost $15 million in short-term workforce training. Though the system's enrollment has fallen, community colleges would receive $1.8 million in one-time funding to offset student declines related to Hurricane Matthew.
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The budget plan was approved by the Senate in an initial vote Wednesday.
Both systems would receive pots of money to use for employee raises, along with the flexibility to award them on a merit basis and not across-the-board. The UNC system would get $20 million for pay increases, and the community colleges would get $24 million.
Some UNC funded items were not among the system's spending priorities, and the legislative budget proposal also includes unusual cuts that target five campuses — with the largest reduction, $1.1 million in supplies and purchasing contracts, at East Carolina University. Other campuses that would see cuts in supply funds are N.C. State University, UNC Greensboro, UNC Charlotte and N.C. A&T State University.
The budget includes funding for enrollment growth across the state's universities and pays for the NC Promise reduced tuition program at Elizabeth City State University, UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina.
Among the largest items in the expanded budget are $4.8 million to UNC medical school's western location in Asheville and $4.8 million for surgery and family medicine residencies for UNC's Fayetteville-based Southern Regional Area Health Education Center. UNC-Chapel Hill's N.C. Policy Collaboratory, an environmental policy center, would receive $5 million for scientific instruments, sample collection and analysis, hiring of staff and data management.
UNC spokeswoman Allison Reid said UNC did not request the additional money for the collaboratory.
"We are still reviewing the budget and the details of what it means for the collaboratory, but we understand that that the bulk of the funds will finance researchers and we are prepared to assist the state by tapping into the environmental research expertise of the university system," Reid said.
The center, created by the Legislature, has been controversial. Its research director is Jeff Warren, a former science adviser to Republican Senate leader Phil Berger.
As money has been steered to the UNC entity, Democrats have complained in the past that state regulators have been inadequately funded to deal with contamination in the Cape Fear River by a chemical known as GenX, which a class-action lawsuit has claimed is tied to cancer.
N.C. State would receive $2 million to speed up the development of manufacturing processes for biopharmaceutical products. UNC's law school, which has been targeted for cuts in recent years, would have a $500,000 cut reinstated plus another $465,000 to help create the Carolina Institute for Law and Entrepreneurship, a new center that would provide law students with experience in advising business entrepreneurs in rural incubators.
UNC would be given $500,000 for a systemwide data modernization project — short of the $2 million requested. But a former popular tuition grant program for graduates of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics would be brought back with $970,000 in one-time funding. The UNC system had requested $1.5 million for the scholarships, which are awarded to NCSSM graduates who enroll in the UNC system.
"At a time when policymakers are increasingly vocal about the need for access to a high-quality education for everyone, our legislators matched that rhetoric with the funding we need to get the job done," UNC President Margaret Spellings said in a statement Wednesday.
She said total funding for the UNC system's data overhaul has now reached $9 million, allowing the universities to bring data systems into the 21st Century.
Building projects approved for the UNC system include $15 million for the western campus of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Morganton, $16.5 million for a new steam plant at Western Carolina and business school projects at UNC Pembroke ($6 million) and N.C. Central ($8.6 million). UNC Wilmington would receive $5.5 million in planning funds for a new library.
A new medical school building for East Carolina University was not included in the budget, but the UNC board of governors would receive $3 million for a task force to study science and technology building needs, including at ECU. A separate bill that would allocate $14 million for ECU's Brody medical school building was filed this week, but it was referred to the rules committee, where bills often die.
Peter Hans, the new president of the community college system, said the extra $14.7 million for workforce training represented an important step in achieving parity with the better-funded degree programs.
"Our top priority for this legislative session was securing additional funding for short-term workforce training that leads to industry credentials," Hans said in a statement. "Colleges can start – and students can complete – workforce continuing education programs more quickly than traditional academic programs, enabling colleges to be even more responsive to new technologies and economic conditions."