State budget compromise released
Posted September 15, 2015 5:45 a.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2015 9:35 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — After previewing the measure Monday afternoon, top North Carolina lawmakers posted the two-month-overdue budget compromise announced Monday online just before midnight. The 429-page bill and accompanying 207-page money report will face votes in the House and the Senate this week before heading to Gov. Pat McCrory.
The documents confirm much of what House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Monday, but they shed additional light on the $21.7 billion spending plan. The following are among the details found in a quick reading of the two documents:
- Contains money to keep all current teaching assistants in the classroom.
- Gives state workers and teachers a one-time $750 bonus this year, to be paid out in December 2015. Funding to increase salaries for prison guards is included as well. However, there is no cost-of-living increase for state retirees.
- Requires that $49.9 million from the sale of the Dorothea Dix property be transferred to a special fund that can be used only by the General Assembly.
- Expands sales taxes to include repair, maintenance and installation services, including car repairs. The extra money those new sales taxes generate in urban areas would be redistributed to rural counties whose residents pay more in sales taxes than their local governments collect under the current system of taxation. This language avoids the so-called "sales tax shift" that has been opposed by city leaders, McCrory and many suburban legislators.
- Increases a number of fees for the Department of Motor Vehicles. For example, the fee for a new driver's license rises from $15 to $20 for each year the license is valid – a $40 increase for an eight-year license.
- Cuts personal income taxes by trimming the individual income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5.499 percent. The bill also expands the standard deduction on which taxpayers pay no tax. For a married couple, the deduction expands from $15,000 to $15,500.
- Gives the State Board of Education the authority to consolidate two different school systems if they are next to one another, but gives lawmakers the right to sign off an any such merger.
- Allows city and town governments to charge a $30-per-year local vehicle tax, replacing an existing $5-per-year tax. Of the $30, $5 can be used for any purpose, and $5 can be used to back public transportation. Any additional tax levied, up to $20, must be used for street improvements. Some cities, such as Raleigh, already have the ability to charge fees higher than $5.
- On page 163, prohibits the state's Department of Health and Human Services from contracting "family planning services, pregnancy prevention activities, or adolescent parenting programs with any provider that performs abortions," an apparent swipe at Planned Parenthood. However, the measure goes on to say it does not restrict contracts issued under the Medicaid program.
- Prohibits retailers from accepting any type of "public assistance funds" for the purchase of a lottery ticket.
- Caps state funding for light rail projects at $500,000 per project. That would limit efforts to build a light rail line in the Triangle.
- Moves up the schedule for payments to victims of the state's former eugenics program. While an initial $20,000 went out last year, survivors of the state-sponsored sterilization program had been due $50,000, but full payment has been delayed by appeals of those whose claims were rejected. The budget authorizes a second round of $15,000 in advance of other claims being settled, to be paid out by Nov. 1, 2015.
- Eliminates taxpayer support to the tune of $737,230 for the Hunt Institute at Chapel Hill, which focuses on improving public education by fostering connections between policymakers and education thinkers. The institute is named for former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt.
- Creates a new late fee for motor vehicle registrations that will be used to pay for driver's education programs. Funding for driver's education has been in dispute much of the summer. Driver's education will continue as before, but lawmakers used the budget to create a study of how to improve it going forward.
- Provides $13.6 million for the Biotechnology Center, a program that Senate budget writers cut but which economic developers say is key to developing new products for North Carolina agriculture and other sectors.
- Requires UNC to set aside $2 million for Western Governor's University as a match if the institution can raise $5 million for a new campus. WGU offers most of its instruction online and focuses on advancing students when they've mastered a certain set of knowledge rather than basing progress on a semester model.
- Requires hospitals to post how much charity care they provide to the public.
- Creates a new program evaluation and oversight office to track spending within DHHS.
- Lays the foundation for the "transformation" of the state's Medicaid program. A total of $225 million over two years is set aside to help with changing the state insurance program for the poor and disabled from the current fee-for-service system to a managed care system.
- Sets up new departments of Information Technology and Veterans' Affairs.
- Moves state attractions including parks, aquariums, the Museum of Natural History and the zoo out of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources into the Department of Cultural Resources instead, and gives DCR more flexibility to raise admissions fees to cover operating expenses.
- Expands the school voucher program by an additional $6.8 million in 2015-16, and by $14 million in 2016-17.
- Increases State Highway Patrol salaries by 3 percent, retroactively effective July 1, 2015.
- Allows several specialty license plates to be issued without meeting the required minimum of 300 orders, including one commemorating the Battle of Kings Mountain, in the district of House Speaker Tim Moore.
- Creates two "Save the Honey Bees" special plates, with proceeds going to the N.C. State Apiculture program.
- Increases the cap on turnpike (tolled road) projects statewide from nine to eleven.
- Cuts compensation for court reporters by 20 percent.