Raleigh, N.C. — House and Senate budget negotiators hope to reach agreement on a $22.225 billion tax and spending bill over the next two weeks.
While the two chambers agree on a number of things, including the amount of overall spending that should be allowed, there are some key differences.
The legislature's Fiscal Research Division provides a full breakdown of the funding differences, but here are some of the most important gaps.
House: The House budget would expand the standard deduction, the amount of income on which North Carolinians pay no state income tax, by $2,000 for couples filing jointly and $1,000 for single filers over the next four years.
Senate: Senators have proposed a similar income tax cut but would phase it in over two years, starting in 2016. The Senate budget also expands the number of services upon which consumers will have to pay sales tax.
House: The House budget would raise teacher pay by an average of about 3 percent, getting close but not quite hitting the goal of an average $50,000 salary Gov. Pat McCrory laid out in his budget proposal.
Senate: The Senate's pay plan amounts to a roughly 6.5 percent average raise for teachers and would bring the state's average salary to more than $54,000. The Senate gets that extra money by not putting money into other areas of state government, such as raises for rank-and-file state workers.
House: State and state-funded local employees would receive a 2 percent raise, and most would also receive a $500 bonus. Those who are due for a step increase would get the step increase, but not the bonus.
Senate: The Senate does not provide any across-the-board increase. Senators did provide step increases for the State Highway Patrol and magistrates and set aside money for one-time performance bonuses as well as a pool to raise the salaries of key employees whose salaries are below the private-sector rate for similar work. This plan looks a lot like what McCrory proposed in his budget message.
House: State retirees would receive a 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment under the House budget.
Senate: Senators did not provide a COLA for retirees, saying that it would be too costly.
House: House budget writers would set aside $25 million for more literacy coaches to help students meet Read to Achieve benchmarks by the third grade. However, they would get some of that money by eliminating a planned addition of new first grade teachers and would reduce the amount of funding available for summer reading camps. House lawmakers also would revise the A-F letter grading system for schools to make student growth count as much as testing to determine the grade and by keeping the current 15-point grading system in place.
Senate: The Senate continues with plans to further reduce class sizes in first grade. The Senate budget also includes a bonus program to reward teachers whose students achieve reading scores that show the most growth in performance either across the state or within their school systems. Senators also included a provision that could affect the operation of year-round schools that was not in the House budget.
House: The House budget eliminates a $2 million challenge grant for Western Governors University. It also sets aside $3 million to help students who are partially finished with their undergraduate degrees but at risk of dropping out.
Senate: Senators would reduce tuition at UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University to $500 per semester and create a new scholarship program for North Carolina Central University and North Carolina A&T State University. It also sets aside $3 million for a UNC School of Medicine campus in Asheville.
House: The House and the Senate budgets don't differ on many large programs. The most important item in both budgets is how much money the state will spend on Medicaid next year, and the two chambers agree on that. However, each chamber tweaks spending in dozens of small ways. The House, for instance, increases the number of children who can enroll in pre-kindergarten programs by putting $4 million more into the program. The chamber would also put $10 million this year and nearly $2 million in future years for a diabetes prevention program that would serve minority communities.
Senate: The Senate budget closes the Wright School in Durham, which serves children with serious emotional and behavioral disorders. This provision is frequently one that is at odds between the House and the Senate. The Senate budget would also create a new oversight committee to keep tabs on behavioral health spending and policy. N.C. Health News provides a more detailed breakdown of health policy differences between the two budgets.
House: The state House would eliminate tolls on ferries and allow for more state funding to be put toward light rail projects such as one contemplated in Durham and Orange counties.
Senate: Rather than making ferries free, the Senate budget would create a $150 fast pass to allow pass holders to jump to the front of ferry lines as a way to generate revenue. Senators had moved toward eliminating the light rail funding cap in a fashion similar to the House, but the version of the budget that passed would limit spending to 10 percent of the cost of any one project. The 17-mile route from Durham to Chapel Hill would need the state to carry about 25 percent of the cost in order to work with the funding secured from the federal and local governments.
House: The majority of changes House members made to environmental matters were relatively small, and most have some Senate counterpart.
Senate: The Senate included major environmental policy provisions in its version of the budget, including a rollback of environmental protections for Jordan Lake.