This story is part of The Daily Tar Heel's annual Year in Review issue as we look back on 2015. Read the rest of the Year in Review stories here.
After two and a half months of delays, the N.C. General Assembly passed the state budget for 2015-17 in mid-September.
The $21.7 billion budget, originally due July 1, was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory Sept. 18.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of those tough issues in the budget, so it’s taken awhile,” Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a press conference in September. “But I believe we’ve got a very good work product at the end that our colleagues will support and will benefit the citizens of this state.”
The budget received support by the Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, with some Democrats opposed.
“While there may never be a budget document that will be considered perfect in the eyes of 170 different members, we feel that the final budget outcome is a major step in the right direction for North Carolina,” a letter signed by 21 House Republicans stated when the budget was finalized.
Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said that many Democrats felt shut out of the process of creating the budget.
“Realistically, this is a game about power,” he said. “The reality is the Republicans have the power to negotiate this budget behind closed doors and pass it with their majorities, and they don’t have to include Democrats — and they decided not to.”
Areas where spending increased:
- The entry-level salary for teachers was raised to $35,000. Rather than all teachers receiving a 2 percent raise, as originally planned by the House, teachers will receive a one-time bonus of $750.
- The North Carolina Arts Council received a 6.5 percent increase in state funding this year, the first increase in eight years. Over $1 million will go toward arts education in schools, while $60 million will go toward grants for the North Carolina film industry.
- $99 million will go toward the UNC system. “North Carolina's public funding of universities is already fourth highest in the nation on a per-student basis," said Jenna Robinson, president of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. "This budget continues that high level of funding.”
Areas where spending decreased:
- The budget cut more than $110 million from the state’s mental health agencies for the 2015-16 fiscal year, with an additional $152 million in cuts proposed for 2016-17. “We have cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of (mental health services), so we have more and more people that are ending up in jail and prison instead of getting treatment for mental illness,” said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange.
- More experienced teachers did not receive a much-desired pay raise. "Nearly 70 percent of North Carolina public school teachers will receive no salary increase at all in this budget," said Keith Poston, executive director of the N.C. Public School Forum.
- Public defenders in North Carolina will no longer have authority over their own case spending, as the new state budget shifts control from the Office of Indigent Defense Services to the Administrative Office of the Courts. Thomas Maher, executive director of the Office for Indigent Defense Services, said this change could affect the number and types of cases that will receive funding.
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