Earlier this month, the General Assembly passed a $25.9 billion budget for the first time since 2018. The budget was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, but that doesn’t mean it fills the needs of many North Carolinians.
Despite signing the new budget into law, Gov. Roy Cooper said the new budget “missed opportunities” and had “politically and unnecessary missteps.”
Prior to Cooper’s signature, North Carolina was the only state in the country without an operating budget for the fiscal year.
Passing the budget was stalled for months because of disagreements between the North Carolina House and Senate, Republican infighting and stalemating negotiations between the General Assembly and the Governor.
The shortcomings of the budget include a lack of funding for K-12 education, especially failing to fulfill the constitutional obligation laid out by the court-ordered Leandro Plan. The budget puts in place less than half of what was required by the plan, which calls for $690.7 million this year and $1.06 billion next year.
The only benefit the budget does provide is a five percent pay increase to teachers over the next two years, but this is nowhere near what was asked for by policy advocates or educators themselves.
The budget is also concerning given its unsustainable corporate tax cuts, which chiefly benefit people of higher socioeconomic status and corporations.
The lackluster funding is a theme of the budget at large — a small step toward progress, but nowhere near enough. It seems Cooper and the Democrats have bent to the will of the Republican-controlled General Assembly for the sake of having a budget after all these years.
Having a functioning budget to work from is important to provide a blueprint to work from and operate within. But this 761-page document is nowhere near the progress we needed in North Carolina.
The budget does, however, succeed in one area: funding for higher education.
The UNC System is getting even more money than it asked for in the new budget. It includes raises for faculty, online learning programs and significant money for new buildings. In Chapel Hill, that includes, through the fiscal year from 2022-23, about $46 million for the UNC School of Nursing on top of the $2.5 million appropriated last year and about $28 million for the Kenan-Flagler Business School in addition to the $7 million appropriated last year.
The $2 billion in construction investments across the UNC System is the largest state investment in college campuses since the turn of the millennium, said UNC System President Peter Hans at a Board of Governors meeting earlier this month.
UNC employees will also see a one-time bonus of $1,000 each, plus an additional $500 for those making less than $75,000 per year. Employees will also see a 2.5 percent raise in each of the next two fiscal years.
The budget also provides $70 million dollars to help support enrollment growth within UNC System institutions.
While this UNC System funding has not yet been divided between the campuses, the amount of money being pumped into higher education in North Carolina is encouraging. It provides opportunities for more North Carolinians to access higher education and grow the ability of universities across the state to reach students.
That North Carolina has passed a budget is an accomplishment in itself. We have been operating on a continuation budget for the past three years and have been leaving millions in cash reserves and public utilities on the table. But just because we have a budget now, doesn’t mean it is a perfect fix — or even one at all.
We believe this budget is, with all its flaws and “missed opportunities,” a small step in the right direction. We must continue, however, to push for equity to fill the gaps this new budget creates.
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