Forced DHHS move to Granville County dropped from Senate budget language
Posted May 20, 2020 2:12 p.m. EDT
Updated May 20, 2020 3:19 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The latest Senate budget language on relocating the state Department of Health and Human Services headquarters doesn't say anything about a move to Granville County, a signal General Assembly leadership may drop the mandate.
Senate leaders added the requirement to the budget last year as part of the battle with Gov. Roy Cooper. It was one of several potential deal breakers included in the budget that passed the legislature but never went into effect because Cooper vetoed it.
Lawmakers have gathered again in Raleigh to work on a new budget, and the Senate rolled out 18 separate bills Tuesday, each outlining what Republican leaders called "a must-do appropriation" in a news release.
The bills lay out priorities, but they're largely lacking funding figures. The state doesn't know yet how much money it will have to spend in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1, but expects a multibillion-dollar revenue drop because of the coronavirus pandemic's impact on the economy, including income and sales tax revenue.
The House has not laid out its budget priorities yet in detail, though House Speaker Tim Moore spoke to county commissioners on a video call Wednesday and said he'd like to see a large bond package included for transportation projects, K-12 school construction and university construction.
"Maybe a couple billion, maybe $3 billion," Moore, R-Cleveland, said.
Cooper has favored this approach as well, though the Senate has tended toward more of a pay-as-you-go method.
Moore also told county commissioners on the call that local projects, which were part of the budget Cooper vetoed, probably won't be coming back this budget cycle.
"The batteries are out of the 'yes' button, and we've had to plug the 'no' button in," he said.
As for DHHS, Senate Bill 804 would lay out funding to move the department's headquarters from the Dorothea Dix campus, which will eventually become a city of Raleigh park. The bill doesn't include an amount, and it doesn't say anything about requiring a move to Granville County.
Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, a top budget writer, said that the chamber is dropping that for now.
"But it is still a work in progress," Jackson said in a text message.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's spokesman, Pat Ryan, said not to read too much into the new language.
"We don’t think now is the appropriate time to wade into a controversial issue regarding DHHS’ future," Ryan said in an email.
Department leadership was caught off guard last year by the requirement and voiced concerns about it. They had planned to relocate within Raleigh.
Other proposals among the Senate's 18 budget bills released Tuesday include the following:
- Reserve accounts to fund salaries for teachers, police officers and other state employees. Senate leadership noted that, during the last recession, there were salary cuts and freezes and said these reserves help avoid that.
- A bill funding student enrollment growth in K-12 schools. Senate leadership said "every budget decision made will have as one consideration the absolute aversion to cutting education budgets and teacher salaries."
- Funding for University of North Carolina system enrollment growth
- Funding for community college enrollment growth
- Funding for the state employees retirement system and for state debt payments
- Funding for Medicaid transformation, a Republican priority to bring in more private management of the state's Medicaid program in an effort to manage costs. The bill would require the transition, delayed by last year's budget stalemate after years of preparation, to begin by Jan. 1.
- A $623 million transfer into the savings reserve
- Funding for the new Morganton campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Math
- Funding to continue implementation of "Raise the Age," legislation overhauling the state's juvenile justice code, and to continue renovations at youth detention centers, as well as construction of new facilities
- Funding to continue the N.C. Promise tuition program, which provides $500 in-state tuition at three UNC campuses
- A UNC building reserve to pay for operation and maintenance of new buildings scheduled for completion in the next fiscal year
- Money to open the new North Carolina Agricultural Sciences Center
- Money to open parks that were expanded or improved using Connect NC bonds
- A framework for a new utility reserve that would provide grants to distressed water and wastewater systems around the state
- Funding for a new steam plant at Western Carolina University
- Various other repairs and renovations at UNC campuses and at state agencies
- Funding for the Department of Information Technology and Western DATA Center improvements
- Funding for the Military Affairs Commission in case the federal government pursues base closures