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NC House leaders and Gov. Cooper propose budgets for next two fiscal years

20230327_Le_City-budget-proposals
DTH Photo Illustration. Child care, mental health services, job training, and teacher raises are some of the focuses included in the budget.

It's the beginning of budget season in North Carolina. 

On Wednesday, N.C. House Republicans proposed their budget for the state. This comes after Gov. Roy Cooper released his own recommendations for the 2023-2025 fiscal year budget on March 15.

Increasing state employee and teacher pay are major tenets for both the House Republicans' and the governor's budget proposals. The House budget is a total of $60.7 billion, whereas Cooper’s proposal would invest over $67 billion over the next two years.

North Carolina has the 11th-largest economy in the nation, and the Office of State Budget and Management and the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division predicted a surplus of $3.25 billion for the fiscal year 2022-23. Cooper's budget allows for nearly $7 billion allotted in reserves in case of a potential economic downturn.

In a March 15 press release, Cooper said his budget supports the “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to build on the state’s economic success.

“Let’s take advantage of our unlimited potential to make sure every North Carolinian can thrive,” Cooper said in the release.

Teacher pay

Cooper’s budget includes $1.8 billion in funding to raise teacher pay by an average of 18 percent over the next two years. The N.C. House’s recent budget proposal would increase teacher pay by 10 percent, according to the News & Observer.

Under Cooper’s proposal, these changes would rank North Carolina first in the Southeast region for teacher salary and 16th in the nation, an increase from its current ranking of 32nd.

The average starting salary for teachers in North Carolina is approximately $37,000. Cooper's budget would set starting salaries at $46,000, and the OSBM says this will reduce plateaus for veteran teachers and restore master's pay — an additional salary increase for instructors with advanced degrees. The state House bill would also restore a pay increase for teachers with at least a master's degree.

Cooper's budget includes a 9.5 percent pay raise for non-certified school personnel and expanding DMV capacity for training to address statewide bus driver shortages. The House proposal includes a 4.25 percent salary increase for non-certified school employees.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland, Rutherford) said in a press conference that North Carolina is in one the best financial positions the state has seen in a long time. He said the House budget is financially responsible and would maintain a responsible spending path.

Child care and early childhood education

Cooper proposed $1.5 billion in funding for child care and early childhood education. This includes $500 million in childcare stabilization grants to improve access to affordable education. The governor's budget also allots $200 million to grow subsidy rates for childcare providers in rural and lower-wealth communities.

The House budget includes funding to increase child care subsidy rates to the 75th percentile, as recommended by a 2021 study. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Child Development and Early Education would continue rolling out policies to improve the quality of care for subsidized children.

Elaine Zukerman, the advocacy and communications director for the North Carolina Early Education Coalition, said early education is one the best investments that can be made with the state's funds.

While the governor's proposal for early education investment is historic, Zukerman said it's an attainable goal.

“It’s really time for everybody to sort of pay attention to it and really see it as the infrastructure for our society and our economy,” Zukerman said. “Because it is.”

Candace Stevens, the director of Fundamentals Child Development Center, said the most important areas for this funding are staff wages and helping parents through tuition assistance.

“The importance is families need to have somewhere safe and reliable that they can drop their children off so they can go to work and provide to their families,” Stevens said.

Mental health services

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Through a $1 billion recommended budget allotment, Cooper is looking to confront mental health needs and substance abuse crises through the Improve Health Outcomes for People Everywhere fund. 

The House's proposed budget allocates $15 million to build an adolescent behavioral health care facility from the NCDHHS's Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services' American Rescue Plan Act funds. 

Linda Myerholtz, an associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine's Department of Family Medicine, said COVID-19 exacerbated mental health concerns that were already present prior to the pandemic. She said there has been a tremendous increase in the need for mental health care, but a decrease in the availability of these services. 

“I think it’s very exciting that mental health needs are finally getting more funding directed towards them because, for a long time, mental health has really been looked at as a secondary part of health care rather than a primary part of health care,” she said.

Next steps

Currently, the House budget is in the chamber's rules committee. After the budget is passed, the state senate can make changes to it before sending it to the governor's desk.

According to the News & Observer, a budget proposal in March is promising for state employees, who often have to wait for months to find out if they are receiving a raise in the new budget.

On March 27, Cooper signed H.B. 76 into law, expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage to an expected 600,000 people throughout the state. The bill said this expansion will occur once a budget is signed into law.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article listed the sum of investments in the state House’s budget proposal, listing only the amount for the first fiscal year. The amount has been updated to reflect proposed spending for both upcoming fiscal years. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

@madelynvanmeter

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com