The Raleigh Report from Rep. Susan Fisher May, 2019
Flawed NC House Budget Passes
The most important bill passed each year is the State Budget. It invests around $24 billion of the money we pay in taxes in public education, health, public safety, and other public purposes. The budget is a two-year spending plan and covers fiscal years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Typically, legislators will amend the two year budget at its halfway point in next year’s “short” session.
Before the State Budget becomes law it must pass the State House, then the State Senate, and then both legislative chambers need to agree on the same version. At this point, the State Budget goes to the Governor, who can elect to sign it into law or veto it. If he vetoes, legislators can try to override the Governor’s veto or work out a new budget agreeable to him.
This week the State House passed its version of the State Budget on a 61 to 55 vote. I voted No. All budgets have good and bad parts, and this one is no different, but the bad outweighs the good in key areas. On those, I comment below.
No Medicaid Expansion
Medicaid expansion will close the coverage gap for 500,000 North Carolinians. Expansion will help people lead healthier and better lives. It will help struggling rural hospitals and create health care jobs.
No state that has expanded Medicaid has reversed course. Many states used the passage of their State Budget bill to expand Medicaid. HB 966 does not include Medicaid expansion. I supported a motion to send the bill back to committee so Medicaid expansion could be included, but it failed on a party-line vote.
Expanding Medicaid is the single best thing we can do this session to expand health care access, make health care more affordable, address the opioid crisis, and boost rural economies. We must join 37 other states in making this happen.
A Tale of Two Teacher Raises
HB 966 increases teacher pay and that is a good thing. Budget writers say it is an average 4.6% increase, but there’s a catch. In a highly unusual move, the pay raises do not go into effect until January 1, 2020 – rather than July 1, 2019. This means teachers have to wait six months for the raise. If you started raises at the start of the fiscal year (July 1) then the teacher raise would only be 3% because you would be using the same amount of money for raises over 12 months instead of 6 months.
Why do we need to increase teacher pay? Because we need to attract and keep the best teachers. Pay raise gimmicks like the ones in this budget do not help us attain our goal of attracting and keeping the best teachers.
Gov. Cooper proposed a different way and we should adopt his approach. No more corporate tax cuts. Invest $579 million in teacher pay raises (compared with $341 million in the House budget) so you can give a real raise that starts July 1 that raises teacher pay 9.1% over the course of the two year budget.
Limited Investments in Public School Resources
HB 966 makes some investments in important areas of our public schools, but I am disappointed that it repeatedly falls short in areas that Governor Cooper recommended in his balanced budget proposal, while over funding voucher programs that divert public money to private schools. I supported amendments to transfer voucher money to textbooks, digital resources, and local public schools, but those amendments were defeated.
Clean Water and Emerging Compounds
Governor Cooper’s Department of Environmental Quality requested $6 million in new funds to fight the growing problem of emerging compounds like Gen X in our drinking water. The House budget funds 1/10 of that request. I voted for an amendment to increase our investment in clean water, but it failed to pass.
Missed Opportunity to Invest in Community
Colleges and Workforce Development
A good way to help people earn more money and help the local economies is
to invest in our community colleges to provide scholarships. I supported amendments to invest in Finish Line Grants to help community college students finish school and in NC GROW community college scholarships for students pursuing in-demand degrees. Both amendments were defeated and are not funded in HB 966.
Tax Cuts for the Working Poor Instead of Wealthy Corporations
HB 966 cuts the franchise tax that corporations pay. I supported an amendment to keep the tax the same for businesses worth more than $250,000 and to use those funds to reinstate the state Earned Income Tax Credit that benefits low-income working families. The amendment would have meant more money in people’s pockets that they in turn spend locally, but the amendment failed.
“Slap in the Face” State Employee and Retiree Compensation
· Pay raise of 1% or $500, whichever is greater, for state employees.
· Pay raises don’t start until Jan. 1, 2020, not the usual July 1, 2019.
· Retirees receive a 1% one-time payment, but not until January 1, 2020.
Funding for Rural Job Creation Falls Short
There is good news in the House budget, such as $30 million for rural broadband. We missed an opportunity to invest in $26 million in locally-identified economic development projects (include any examples your district received in Governor Cooper’s budget).
The Governor had also proposed $5 million broadband investment in school transportation to help close the “homework gap” for students who do not have access to broadband at home, but that investment was not included in the budget.
We are a one-of-a-kind magazine that provides local, regional, national and international information about women’s lives and education, performing and visual arts and writing, the environment, green living and sustainability and regional Western North Carolina business, people and events.