The new state budget unveiled by Republican legislators Monday night will send hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to religious groups, including more than $1 million to pro-life pregnancy clinics.
Other grants include a quarter of a million dollars for an outdoors group that combines Bible studies with hunting trips, as well as $100,000 to build a YMCA in an influential legislator's district, $35,000 for a prison ministry group, and more.
The budget was written in secret by a handful of lawmakers and, now that it's public, GOP leaders have said it will not be open to any changes from other lawmakers of either party. It's the first time in modern North Carolina history that the budget has been closed to input from the public and amendments from lawmakers.
A vote on the budget is expected this week. As long as Republican lawmakers support the budget their leaders wrote, they'll be able to pass it into law and override any potential veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
There's a lot of changes in the new budget, including raises for teachers and other state employees, squashing plans for light rail in the Triangle, letting cities set up their own charter schools, and more.
But budgets typically contain a good amount of pork spending as well, to please politically influential groups or influential legislators, and in this year's budget, much of that money would be sent to religious groups.
Perhaps the biggest religious recipient of state money is Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a pro-life group that operates clinics for expecting mothers statewide, which will receive $1 million.
However, that's actually a cut from the $1.3 million legislators had previously approved for the group. This year's budget takes the $300,000 cut from that group and redirects it to a different pro-life group, the Human Coalition, which describes itself explicitly as opposing the "abortion industry." It operates clinics in Raleigh and Charlotte, and the new state money is for its Raleigh clinic. But despite the group's outspoken ideological leanings, the budget does say that it should only use the funds for "nonsectarian purposes."
A third pro-life pregnancy clinic, Mountain Area Pregnancy Services in Asheville, is also receiving $250,000 in the budget. The group's website says it supports abstinence-only sex ed and an end to abortion, and it tells visitors that "God will use your talents and your generosity to change hearts and save lives!"
Some of the other religious recipients of funding include:
▪ $250,000 to Cross Trail Outfitters, a Christian hunting and fishing group for boys ages 7 to 20. It operates summer camps, Bible studies and other activities in 17 chapters spread out around the state. The money is coming from the budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically from a pool of money for health projects that also goes to purposes like fighting the opioid epidemic.
▪ $100,000 to Onslow County to build a YMCA. Onslow County is the home of Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican who is the Senate majority leader. It's unclear who put that provision into the budget, however, and Brown did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning.
▪ $35,000 to the Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries, a group that sends volunteers to the jail and prison near Winston-Salem "to help imprisoned men and women find Jesus Christ through study, through counseling, through worship and through actions."
▪ $7,500 to All the Kings Children Foundation, a Christian group in Mount Olive that gives food and school supplies to kids from low-income families.
▪ $7,500 for Men of Faith, Integrity and Character, another group in Mount Olive that works with local schools.
But religious groups aren't the only nonprofits that won grants in this year's budget.
Other charities that will receive taxpayer dollars from the state include:
▪ $200,000 for Donors Choose, an education fundraising website, to distribute to schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district.
▪ $40,000 to the Lenoir County United Way.
▪ $30,000 for Dare County to host a Special Olympics.
▪ $25,000 for the state chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a national program that takes disabled veterans fishing.
▪ $20,000 to the Greater Bath Foundation, which promotes tourism and historical development in the coastal town of Bath, which has a population of 250 people and is the oldest town in North Carolina.
▪ $5,000 to Colors of Life Community Development, an anti-gang group in Robeson County.
▪ $5,000 to the Parkton Ruritan Club in Robeson County.
▪ $5,000 to the United Saddletree Center, a Native American group in Robeson County.