Update: The Senate gave third approval to its draft budget shortly after Midnight in a 26-13 vote Friday morning after minimal discussion and no proposed amendments.
The Senate will reconvene Monday at 7 p.m. and will enter into conference discussions with the House to put forth a budget agreement for the governor to sign.
The Senate gave second approval to its draft budget Thursday afternoon in a 33-15 vote after about three hours of floor debate.
The Senate then recessed and will come back just after midnight to take a final third reading in the budget.
Whether the day will remain short or stretch into the night largely depends on how much opposition Senate Democrats mount to the budget.
Not a single Democrat voted in favor of the proposed $22.26 billion spending plan, as opposed to the House budget, which got bipartisan support.
“This fiscally responsible budget benefits all North Carolinians by allowing a typical family to keep an additional $110 by making the first $17,500 of their income tax-free, including a plan to raise average teacher pay to $55,000, ensuring tuition does not increase at public universities … during a student’s four years in college and by making a generous investments in public education, transportation and other core priorities,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said.
During the debate eight amendments were proposed, five of which passed.
Among the amendments adopted was one that stripped out proposed low tuition rates at three of the historically black universities.
The amendment drew criticism and praise from both sides of the aisle, passing in a 42 to 6 vote with Democrats and Republicans voting on both sides.
The section, which was meant to make an education at those institutions more affordable, was changed to remove those three historically black institutions but keep the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and Western Carolina University.
The change calls for lowering the in-state rate to $500 per semester and $2,500 per semester for out-of-state students.
In Salaries and Benefits –
- Lays the foundation to increase average teacher pay from $47,783 to $54,224 over the next two years, which will provide North Carolina public school teachers an average $4,700 permanent pay raise over the same period and propel the state to the top of regional rankings. This is in addition to the teacher pay raises legislators passed in 2014 and 2015.
- Offers experienced-based step increases to teachers, assistant principals, principals, State Highway Patrol troopers, clerks and magistrates and appropriates $16 million to boost pay for correctional officers.
- Provides a one-time $2,000 bonus for school principals and a one-time $500 bonus for assistant principals.
- Earmarks $95 million for permanent merit-based pay raises for state employees and another $85 million for one-time performance-based bonuses.
- Includes $10 million for a pilot program to provide performance-based bonuses of up to $6,800 for 3rd-grade reading teachers. Also, $5 million would be available for the top 25 percent of teachers in each school district based on EVAAS growth scores, and an additional $5 million would be available to the top 25 percent of teachers on a statewide basis.
In Education –
- Increases funding for public education by more than $394 million.
- Funds K-12 enrollment growth, community college enrollment, and public university enrollment.
- Continues the Senate’s commitment to lower class sizes in the early grades by hiring close to 1,000 additional first- and second-grade teachers.
- Protects the Read to Achieve, School Connectivity, Teach for America, and Communities in Schools programs from being cut by the Department of Public Instruction to fund bureaucracy.
- Establishes an opportunity scholarship grant fund reserve of $34.8 million to award more need-based scholarships to children and provides forward funding to add 20,000 children to the program over the next 10 years.
- Creates a teacher assistant tuition reimbursement pilot program in Anson, Franklin, Moore, Richmond, and Scotland counties, which will provide tuition reimbursement of up to $4,500 annually for 25 local TAs to pursue a college degree leading to teacher licensure.
- Fully funds teacher assistant positions at the 2014-2015 level.
- Invests $50 million in the lottery reserve to fund future local school building needs.
- Authorizes an increase in the base budget for the UNC system of up to $70 million to fund the Access to Affordable College Education Act.
- Guarantees there will be no in-state tuition increases for a standard undergraduate college term (usually 4 years) at all North Carolina public universities. This tuition guarantee would also apply to active members of the military based in North Carolina.
- Reduces student fees – often used to fund non-academic expenses – at all North Carolina public universities by 5 percent and limit future increases to no more than 3 percent per academic year.
- Directs $300,000 on a recurring basis to administer the new Cheatham-White Merit Scholarship Program for students at North Carolina Central and N.C. A&T Universities.
- Provides a community college tuition and registration fee waiver to firefighters, EMS, and rescue and lifesaving personnel at military installations for courses that support their organization’s needs.
- Earmarks $183,000 to expand an internship program for students at the state’s historically black colleges and universities.
- Requires all public universities with educator preparation programs to open and operate a lab school for K-8th grade students in a school district where 25 percent or more schools are identified as “low performing.”
In Taxes and Economic Development –
- Provides an immediate $145 million tax cut this year and an additional $205 million tax cut next year, mostly benefitting middle-class families and small businesses.
- Increases the zero percent tax bracket over the next two years – ensuring all North Carolina taxpayers, regardless of income, pay no state income taxes on more of their earnings.
In Health and Human Services –
- Repurposes a more-than $300 million surplus in the Medicaid budget, made possible by reforms that have gotten the chronically troubled program back on track.
- Invests over $9 million to reform North Carolina’s child welfare program by requiring additional training, providing more positions and expanding in-home services to support children’s safety while keeping families together.
- Builds a stronger Controlled Substance Reporting System that will use advanced analytics to detect and fight prescription drug abuse.
- Continues the commitment to improving education and retention of rural physicians by directing nearly $11 million to help establish new medical school programs in Fayetteville and Asheville.
- Funds nearly $500,000 for Zika prevention and detection.
- Directs proceeds from the sale of the Dorothea Dix property go toward services for the mentally ill, including $2 million to establish child facility-based crisis centers and $12 million to expand inpatient behavioral health beds targeting rural areas.
- Funds over 200 additional slots for Alzheimer’s patients and their families through the Community Alternative Program for Disabled Adults.
In Transportation –
- Increases funding for the Strategic Transportation Investment (STI) law by over $32 million, which will allow new highway projects to be added over a 10-year period.
- Allocates nearly $3 million to improve customer service and decrease wait times in high-volume DMV office locations.
- Increases state assistance for urban and rural transit systems by $4 million and state aid to general aviation airports by $15 million.
- Provides nearly $14 million in additional funding to improve freight rail tracks, crossing safety, and industrial, port, and military access.
- Repeals the $500,000 cap on state funding for light-rail projects effective for the next round of project prioritization.
In Justice and Public Safety –
- Makes strategic investments in public safety by providing $1.3 million to get the Western Crime Lab up and running and $640,000 for equipment upgrades in the other two crime labs.
- Includes $2.1 million to help close out the longstanding backlog at the State Crime Lab.
- Provides $250,000 to digitize mental health records to help streamline background checks for gun purchases.
- Invests $500,000 for School Risk Management Plans to be developed in 835 public schools to help keep our children and teachers safe while they are at school.
In Agriculture and the Environment –
- Allocates over half a million dollars for international marketing of North Carolina agricultural products.
- Increases funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund by $5 million.
- Directs federal funds to a broadband initiative and water and sewer projects in public schools.
- Improves government transparency by helping the Office of the State Auditor conduct more specialized audits of state agencies and by implementing a new filing system for Statements of Economic Interest.
- Provides recurring funding for the Human Relations Commission.
- Establishes a cyber-security program for disabled veterans to develop their skills while protecting the state against cyber-attacks.
- Adds $10 million to the Disaster Relief Fund.
- Pays off an outstanding $37 million loan from the federal government that Gov. Jim Hunt borrowed in 1999 and deferred payment on for over 15 years, saving the state $45 million in interest over the next 30 years.
- Invests $12 million to implement state of the art software to ease tax filing for North Carolinians.