Three days is all it takes to push through a $27.9 billion spending plan

·4 min read
Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com

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The swift movement of a sprawling, $27.9 billion spending plan through the North Carolina General Assembly this week is a reminder that even though the legislative process is sometimes long and arduous, lawmakers can act with immediacy when they want to.

On Tuesday evening, after weeks of uncertainty over whether Republican leaders in the House and Senate would come to an agreement over the budget, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, joined by multiple other legislators who were key players in the budget-writing process, unveiled their proposal.

And given the fast-approaching deadline lawmakers had imposed on themselves for wrapping up all legislative business during the short session — July 1 — the budget was slated to move through a conference committee, bypassing the regular process of guiding bills through committees and opening them up to being amended.

Forty-eight hours later, the 192-page budget had gained bipartisan, initial approval in the House and Senate, and was headed toward final approval in both chambers by today.

The first thing everyone looks for are the basics: additional raises of between 1 to 2% on top of the 2.5% that state employees were slated to get this July; a 1% bump in cost-of-living bonuses to pensions for retirees; and for noncertified public school employees like bus drivers, teacher assistants and cafeteria workers, either a 4% raise or a pay increase to $15 an hour, whichever is greater.

But beyond those top-level details, there’s a lot more included in the spending plan that our team has spent the last two days sifting through.

For example, included in the capital and infrastructure projects section, is more than $250 million for making a number of big changes to the layout of government buildings in downtown Raleigh, including a new facility to house the governor’s staff and host the Council of State for its meetings, and a new education complex that will include offices for the UNC and Community College systems, and the departments of Public Instruction and Commerce.

Another $112.5 million is set aside for a qualifying computer chip manufacturer to set up shop in Chatham County, a company that could establish operations at the county’s second megasite, after Vietnamese carmaker VinFast announced it would open a manufacturing site in the unincorporated community of Moncure, Lars Dolder reported.

There’s also a variety of resources for school safety, including $32 million in grants to support students in crisis, conduct more school safety trainings, and purchase safety equipment. And after historically Black colleges and universities faced a series of bomb threats, the budget allocates $5 million to North Carolina’s HBCUs.

The budget also includes:

$611 million for 90 drinking water and water infrastructure projects across the state.

$15 million for the Atlantic Coast Conference to keep its headquarters in the state for at least another 15 years.

$14.7 million from the Opioid Abatement Fund to assist LME/MCOs with remediation programs, conduct research in a variety of programs at UNC-Chapel Hill, and help a Durham nonprofit build a new dormitory for people struggling with addiction.

$3.9 million from DPI to provide all students who qualify for reduced-price meals with free lunches, which is particularly significant since federal waivers that have made lunch free for all U.S. public school students since the start of the pandemic expired on Thursday.

More big stories from the team

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a North Carolina case during its next term that involves the question of whether state legislatures can set election rules free of oversight from state courts. The case could have implications for the upcoming 2024 presidential election, Will Doran reports.

For a brief period, it looked like N.C. lawmakers wouldn’t reach common ground on extending the legal status of hemp, but the state Senate approved a bill at the 11th hour — which has been signed by Gov. Roy Cooper — that permanently removes it from the state’s list of controlled substances, Kyle Ingram reports.

A former aide to Mark Meadows testified to the congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that he sought a pardon for his actions that day, Danielle Battaglia reported.

The N.C. House approved a bill Thursday, strictly on party lines, that would require all 100 of the state’s sheriffs to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I reported. The bill is another attempt at trying to mandate cooperation between local and federal law enforcement to deport offenders who are in the country without legal authorization, after Cooper vetoed a similar measure in August 2019.

Thanks for reading. See you next week. In the meantime, tune into our stories, our tweets and our Under the Dome podcast for more developments.

— By Avi Bajpai, reporter for The News & Observer. Email me at abajpai@newsobserver.com.

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