RALEIGH – As government watchers in Raleigh await the release of the conference report on the long-awaited biennial budget, here are some the numbers we know so far. This list came from Jones+Blount sources, the press conference held by legislative leaders, and statements released by the leadership in both chambers.
By the numbers, what we know about the budget bill that General Assembly members will be voting on this week:
Days since July 1, when the budget should have taken effect. If the budget passes and is signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday – which is possible but still a tight timeline – it will have been 80 days past the original deadline.
The total spending included in the budget for fiscal year 2015-2016. This was a compromise number; the governor originally proposed $21.52 billion, the House $22.16 billion and the Senate $21.65 billion.
Spending increase from fiscal year 2014-2015. The House’s $22.16 billion plan would have been a 5.1 percent jump, while the Senate and McCrory wanted about a 2.7 percent increase.
The amount of tax relief that legislative leaders say is contained in the budget compromise. The budget expands the “zero percent” tax bracket by slightly increasing the standard deduction for 2016 from $15,000 to $15,500 for married couples who file jointly and lowers the income tax rate from 5.75 to 5.499, but not until 2017. It also includes an extension of the tax credit for historic properties, incentives for the film industry, and the restoration of a popular deduction for medical expenses with no maximum. The sales tax base is expanded under the plan’s tax provisions, which are discussed in a separate article.
Reduction in funding for Teachers Assistants in public schools, which remained constant at $64 million. While the governor’s and the House budget plans called for maintaining the funding, the Senate had proposed to shift funding from TAs to teachers in a move to reduce class sizes.
The number of teaching positions that will not be created under the compromise reached by legislative leaders. The Senate budget had added $270 million to add 6,756 new teachers over two years to reduce class sizes, but the House and the governor fought to keep Teachers Assistants (see above).
Funding for drivers education programs, funding which the Senate had proposed eliminating.
The one-time bonus the conference report includes for state employees. Last year the legislature gave employees a $1,000 raise.
The amount of an infrastructure bond package that the legislature would ask voters to approve in a referendum. McCrory had originally proposed two bonds that totaled $2.86 billion, one for transportation projects and one focused on state infrastructure projects. The House passed a bond bill in August that kept the price tag the same but shifted more of the funding to infrastructure projects (such as construction and renovation projects at universities, community colleges and the N.C. Zoo) and away from highway projects.
Senate leaders had said publicly that they preferred to borrow $1.5 billion, but part of the budget compromise was an agreement to pitch a $2 billion bond to voters. Monday Speaker Tim Moore said “we will continue to discuss specific items” to be funded by the bonds when the issue is debated in a separate bill following the passage of the budget conference report.
Where the budget compromise landed on the sales tax redistribution plan. In other words, no change. The Senate’s original plan included a 50/50 split for sales tax revenue between where the sale occurred (usually counties with higher populations) and a population-based distribution. Senate proponents said that the move is needed to help rural counties compete, but opponents — Republican and Democrat — have called the plan “Marxist” and say the current formula was a compromise rural counties agreed to when the state agreed to take over more of the counties’ share of healthcare spending.
Those counties that would have benefited from the change will see that money anyway under a complex plan that would expand the sales tax base, taxing the installation, repair and maintenance of items currently subject to sales tax – including homeowners’ properties.
What first-year teachers can hope to earn under the conference report, up from $33,000. The increase is part of the fulfillment of a promise made last year to bring starting teacher salaries to the national average. Teachers with more experience will get the one-time, $750 bonus that all state employees will receive, and Berger and Moore emphasized that all step increases will be fully funded, which they say has not always happened in state budgets. Step increases are automatic raises teachers and a few other categories of state employees receive based on years of seniority.
What the class size ratio in district-controlled public schools will be by the second year of biennium, according to Moore and Berger. According to budget documents, “the teacher allotment ratio will be decreased by one student per teacher in Grade 1 to provide one teacher per 16 students.”
Budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015. The $446 million surplus was starkly different from the hefty budget deficits of the past, but 2 percent of a $21 billion budget is fairly small for a surplus or deficit. Lawmakers will probably be happy if they end this fiscal year again within two percentage points either way.