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RALEIGH — A budget of $24 billion that was worked out between the state House and Senate quickly worked its way through the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly June 26-27, despite Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s criticism of the budget.

House Bill 966 was adopted by both the state House and Senate, along mostly party-line votes; with third votes of 33-15 in the N.C. Senate and 64-49 in the N.C. House passing the compromise budget on June 27. HB966 was presented to Cooper following the votes.

Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) voted against the budget in the state House while Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) voted in favor.

“This budget continues our commitment to increase funding for school safety, school mental health support personnel, school construction and continued state employee including state correctional officers, teacher and principal pay raises,” Ballard said in a June 27 statement. “This is a thoughtful budget with input from both sides of the aisle in House and Senate chambers, and I encourage all our citizens across the region to ask the governor to sign it.”

Russell said the first time he saw this version of the budget was at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, then he was asked to vote later that afternoon.

“We’re still in the process of parsing everything that was in it,” Russell said. “While there are good and bad things in the budget, there are more bad than good.”

Russell said the lack of Medicaid expansion and cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services were pointed out as two big negatives and part of why he voted “nay.”

Teacher pay has been a hot-button issue during the budget process. In the biennium budget, teacher salaries in 2019-20 would start at $3,500 a month for new teachers and go up to $5,260 a month for teachers with 25-plus years of experience. In 2020-21, the budget would increase teacher pay for those with 16 or more years of experience, setting 25-year-plus teachers at $5,310, for instance.

The compromise budget includes pay raises for correctional officers, public post-secondary institution faculty and other public workers, including funding new court positions to implement the state’s “Raise the Age” mandate, which means 16- and 17-year-olds tried for misdemeanors and low-level felonies will no longer be tried as adults.

“Our state employees are being thrown peanuts,” Russell said.

The Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, the nonprofit group seeking to reopen the theater by October, would receive a one-time grant of $300,000. Blowing Rock would receive $100,000 for infrastructure grants and West Jefferson would get $11,000 for signage.

The budget includes a one-time appropriation of $100,000 each for the Watauga Paddle Trail and the removal of Wards Mill Dam off old Watauga River Road. The budget also calls for the construction of a new N.C. Forest Service county office in Watauga and several other counties during the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The standard deduction for income taxpayers would increase across the board, going from $20,000 to $21,000 for married couples filing jointly and from $10,000 to $10,500 for single filers.

Rep. Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) said the budget authorizes $1.5 billion for capital expenditures on K-12 schools and $400 million for community colleges.

The N.C. Justice Center called for Cooper to veto the budget.

“By failing to take advantage of the national economic expansion, make progress towards meeting community needs and undoing damaging cuts that have been made year after year, this budget proposal misses the opportunity to strengthen our foundation for a stronger economic future,” Rick Glazier of the NC Justice Center stated on June 26.

A meeting between legislative leaders and Cooper on June 21 did not result in a compromise.

“From what we’ve seen, this is a bad budget that has the wrong priorities,” Cooper stated on June 25. “It spends more on corporate tax breaks instead of significantly higher teacher pay. It includes a slush fund that promises projects that may never be built rather than using a school bond at today’s historically low interest rates to help build new schools responsibly. And it fails to do anything to close the coverage gap that would make health care more accessible for working people. North Carolina families deserve a better budget.”

If Cooper vetoes the budget, it will go back to the NCGA, which can override the veto with a 60 percent majority in both houses of the legislature.

“The governor has clearly stated that his chief priority is Medicaid expansion, and even though this compromise passed, it was concocted purely by Republicans,” Russell said on June 27. “Democrats have the votes to sustain a governor’s veto and we have a long way to go before the budget story is finished in N.C.”

The 2018-19 fiscal year ends on June 30, but state law doesn’t allow a government shutdown if a budget isn’t in place.

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