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State budget goes to Gov. Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper will now have to decide whether to veto the budget, which does not include Medicaid expansion. Cory Vaillancourt photo Gov. Roy Cooper will now have to decide whether to veto the budget, which does not include Medicaid expansion. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly approved the state’s $28 billion fiscal year 2022-23 budget last week, but as Gov. Roy Cooper nears the halfway point of his final term, he’ll now have to decide whether or not to veto the proposal, which does not include what’s become his signature issue — Medicaid expansion.

“North Carolina is emerging from the pandemic stronger than before, and we will sustain that only if we invest in a strong foundation for our people: A quality education, good jobs and infrastructure, and access to affordable healthcare,” Cooper said  in a May 11 press release attached to his own budget proposal, which included Medicaid expansion. 

The House and the Senate each passed their own proposals for expansion, but ultimately could not agree on which to advance. 

Expansion aside, the proposed budget  represents a 7.2% increase from the previous biennium, increasing the rainy-day fund’s balance to nearly $5 billion and setting aside an additional $1 billion in anticipation of a recession. 

State employees will see a 3.5% pay increase, teachers 4.2% and non-certified public school employees either 4% or a raise to $15 an hour, whichever is greater. Entry-level teachers will also see an increase in starting salary. Overall, education spending is up nearly 7%. 

In the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, North Carolina legislators pushed for a dramatic increase in school safety spending, including an additional $32 million in grants to support safety equipment and training as well as students in crisis. School resource officer spending will increase by more than $40 million, and an additional $15 million has been earmarked for elementary and middle school SROs. 

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A series of threats to the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities this past February, including Fayetteville State University and Winston-Salem State University, prompted an additional $5 million in funding for cybersecurity and bomb threat prep at the state’s HCBUs. 

More than $880 million has been set aside for water and wastewater infrastructure projects, alongside $250 million to cover possible project cost overruns due to inflation. There’s also a small $5 million increase in the GREAT grants program for rural broadband. 

One element of Cooper’s proposed budget did make it into the General Assembly’s proposal, a $1 million appropriation to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina to identify megasites that could host advanced manufacturing facilities. 

Public safety spending is also on the rise, increasing nearly 4% over the last budget. An additional 13 magistrates, 11 assistant district attorneys and more than 130 judicial support and clerk positions will be funded if the budget’s approved. 

On the local level, there was much anticipation over how much state funding Haywood County and the Town of Canton would receive to aid in the recovery from historic flooding  that took place in August, 2021. 

The scale of the damage was initially estimated at more than $300 million, including private property. The Town of Canton suffered catastrophic losses to major infrastructure including police, fire and town hall. 

Given the town’s relatively small annual budget, replacing the multi-million-dollar facilities would have resulted in substantial property tax increases, however Haywood County’s Rep. Mark Pless said in a release that he’d worked to secure more than $23 million. 

At least $8 million will go toward repairing damaged buildings and the town’s playground. The appropriation is separate from a $9 million previous allotment intended for repair of water infrastructure damaged un the flood. 

Another $5 million is set for use on debris removal, mostly outside the town’s municipal boundaries. 

Yet another $5 million has been lined up to help farmers affected by the flood, which came just as many summer crops were ripening in the fields; famously, thousands upon thousands of green peppers littered streets and riverbanks from just south of Canton through Clyde. The money will be administered through the state’s Agricultural Crop Loss Program. 

There’s also another $5 million for bridges and roads destroyed in the flooding. The funding is earmarked for private roads and bridges not covered by previous reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Unrelated to the flood, an additional $5 million was appropriated to a separate crop loss program for a freeze that affected crops last April, and $150,000 has been allotted for baseball and softball facilities in Bethel. 

As part of the state’s overall public safety spending, Pless said that some of the funding would result in an additional assistant district attorney for the 43rd prosecutorial district as well as another assistant clerk for the Superior Court in Haywood. Since 2020, the judicial system has been hobbled by a backlog of cases due to COVID-19 shutdowns in the court system. 

Pless also secured $3 million for a wastewater treatment plant in Yancey County. 

“Our office is pleased with the appropriations for these important projects and positions,” said Pless. “We have been working hard this session to listen to the needs of the district and secure funding based on those needs and suggestions. While we did not secure all of our requests, we will continue to advocate for them in future budgets.” 

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