RALEIGH – State budget director Andrew Heath addressed members of the General Assembly on Wednesday to present Gov. McCrory’s proposed adjustments to the two-year budget passed last year.
State spending proposals are dominated by education and health and human services, representing over 70% of total recommended spending for 2016-2017.
“The Governor’s first priority is teacher pay and bringing average teacher pay above $50,000 [per year] mark,” Heath said during his presentation.
Such a raise, Heath said, would elevate North Carolina NEA teacher pay rankings from 46th place, to 32.
Approximately 80,000 teachers across the state will receive an average salary increase of $2,313, Heath explained.
Raises would average five percent across the state, and $5,000 bonuses will be issued for veteran teachers with more than 24 years of service.
Heath also reported that Medicaid and public school enrollment figures came in under budget, contributing to a forecasted $237 million surplus.
A portion of the surplus funds are dedicated to implementing the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use, including transitional housing, case management, mental health first aid training, child crisis centers, and efforts to combat heroin and opioid addicition.
Medicaid will also be expanded, Heath said, recommending $3 million to offer services to older adults and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The biggest concern from lawmakers seemed to be the lack of proposed increases for state employees.
“These recommendations set the right tone in fiscal spending discipline,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union County), but “how do you give an increase to teachers of five percent and not to state employees?”
“I am very certain that option will be considered strongly,” said Senior Chairman of Appropriations Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) of the House budget process when the issue of across the board state employee salary increases was raised again.
Heath also told lawmakers that project proposals for the NCConnect Bond funds will be presented to the Council of State in “late spring, or early summer.”
The NCConnect Bond, a $2 Billion debt to fund infrastructure projects, was approved by voters during the March primary elections.
Highlights of the Governor’s total recommended budget can be found here.