Weeks after students have left UNC classrooms and put spring finals behind them, North Carolina lawmakers will remain hard at work passing some of the most important state policies — including a budget that will fund the University.
The two-year state budget is a long process that will include debates about education spending for both public schools and universities, teacher pay and business incentives packages — and it will likely be the main piece of legislation grappled with this summer.
“Usually that doesn’t get passed until down to the end of the session, which is technically the end of June, but usually rolls over into July, maybe even August,” said Carter Wrenn, a conservative political consultant.
The N.C. legislature must pass a holistic budget that encompasses many different state sectors, unlike the U.S. Congress, which can tackle issues and policies individually.
“In the legislature here, it’s what is known as an omnibus bill — it’s got everything in it, or what seems like everything in it,” said Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and director of the Program on Public Life. “Hundreds of decisions are made in the budget and it tends to come down to the last minute.”
University funding has been a contentious area since the economic recession. Since 2011, the UNC system has lost more than $500 million in state funding — including a $65 million cut in 2013. UNC-CH took a 5.5 percent cut of $28 million.
“It’s been cut pretty bad, and I know that there is a lot of feeling in the legislature that the university system could take some more cuts,” Gary Pearce, a liberal political consultant, said. “In turn, if the university system is perceived as being weakened, does that hurt North Carolina’s ability to attract people, and jobs and businesses and new technology? That’s where the big direct impact on students will come.”
The newly selected members of the Board of Governors, which oversees the UNC system, will be sworn in on July 1 at the beginning of the fiscal year. Sixteen new members — half of the board — were elected this month by the N.C. House and Senate.
“Those are the people who forced (UNC President) Tom Ross out. Those are the people who shut down (UNC law professor) Gene Nichol’s center. That’s who runs the system,” Pearce said of the Board of Governors.
In his budget proposal, released in March, Gov. Pat McCrory included another increase in pay for new teachers — similar to increases in 2014.
New teacher pay would increase to $35,000 a year, which McCrory and other Republican leaders pledged last year to do. Wrenn said he doesn’t think lawmakers will argue with that raise.
“It’s still an emphasis on incoming teachers and overall not a very big pay raise — not enough to ratchet up teacher pay substantially,” Guillory said.
There are no increases for other state employees in McCrory’s budget — including university employees, Guillory added.
Also on the docket for the coming months are two bills introduced by House Minority Leader Larry Hall in March related to the state’s voting law — he hopes to lengthen the early voting period and add student IDs to the list of forms of identification people can use to vote.
New voting regulations passed in 2013 shorten early voting by a week and will, starting in 2016, require voters to show identification. House Bill 239 would restore the early voting period to three weeks, and House Bill 240 would allow students at public and private schools in the state to use their student ID as their form of identification.
“Their proposal isn’t to eliminate voter ID because that is a non-starter. This issue is likely to be resolved — if it is resolved — after the semester,” Guillory said.
The legislature will also have to make other decisions regarding environmental regulations, incentives and tax rates.
“Sometimes things just arise in the budget that you don’t know about because it’s such a big thing,” Guillory said.
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