Monroe, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory signed the $22.3 billion state budget on Thursday at a Union County elementary school.
"This budget further fulfills my vision to increase average annual teacher pay to $50,000 for the first time in state history, provides a middle-class tax cut, makes college more affordable and makes much needed investments to improve mental health services, all while strengthening our position as one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation," McCrory said during the signing ceremony at Shiloh Elementary School in Monroe.
The budget raises teacher salaries by an average of 4.7 percent. Other state workers would get a 1.5 percent pay increase under the plan, plus a 0.5 percent bonus, while state retirees would get a one-time 1.6 percent increase to their pensions.
The budget also increases the personal exemption, income on which North Carolinians pay no taxes, by $2,000 for joint filers and $1,000 for single filers by the end of 2017. It also increases funding in the state reserve, or "rainy day," fund to a record 7.5 percent of the state budget.
Starting this fall, the budget freezes undergraduate tuition for students at all University of North Carolina schools who graduate in four years, and in-state tuition at Elizabeth City State University, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina University will drop to $500 per semester. Fee increases for students will be capped at 3 percent a year.
Meanwhile, the campaign of Attorney General Roy Cooper, McCrory's Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial race, criticized the governor's "campaign-style rally" to sign a spending plan that Cooper says doesn't do enough for teachers or middle-class families.
"This budget leaves North Carolina uncompetitive with neighboring states who are actively recruiting our best teachers out of state. Meanwhile, the governor has repeatedly refused to even meet with teachers who just want a real plan to improve our schools," Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement. "This is exactly the kind of empty leadership we need to change in November."