Senate leaders say their $22.9 billion budget continues the Republican majority’s efforts to control spending while addressing crucial needs
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said the budget is in line with recent budgets put out by the Senate, including tax cuts, modest spending increases, and saving for future needs.
“Anyone who has seen our Senate budgets over the last six years will not be surprised that this budget continues our philosophy of improving outcomes in public education, providing generous tax cuts for the middle class and job creators, controlling spending growth and saving for the future,” Berger said at a press conference announcing the budget plan in Tuesday.
“This is the same successful approach that has resulted in consecutive years of revenue surpluses, including this year’s $580 million budget surplus. Overall this balanced budget spends $22.9 billion, [and] it increases spending by 2.5 percent over last year’s adopted budget and 3.75 percent over last year’s actual spending. It focuses those increases on key areas, like providing $600 million more for public education. It continues implementing a plan announced last year to dramatically increase teacher pay, providing teachers an average 3.7 percent raise this year and 9.5 percent over the two years of the biennium while also ensuring that they earn far more over the course of a career.”
The budget plan includes $150 million in disaster relief assistance for the victims of Hurricane Matthew, and also adds $363 million to the state’s rainy day fund, bringing the savings reserve to its highest total ever to prepare for future needs.
Under the current plan, the state’s savings coffers would be shored up to $1.838 billion, or 8.2 percent of last year’s budget, which would make it the largest nest egg the state has ever had.
In the area of education, the budget includes an average 3.7 percent teacher raise in the next fiscal year, which represents a $131 million investment in the first year, with plans for a 9.7 percent increase in the next fiscal year. Principals will also see raises under the budget, with nearly $30 million going for increases to principals’’ paychecks.
Legislators say that their budget plan will spend an addition $600 million for public education over the biennium.
Also, the budget includes provisions to fund public school construction in rural counties in the form of a $75 million grant and adds thousands of slots to the pre-K program.
Community college employees would see a raise too, with a $10 million appropriation for them in the budget.
But it isn’t just educators and school employees who would see raises.
Under the budget, most state employees would receive either a $750 salary increase or a 1.5 percent increase to their salaries, whichever is greater.
In the area of Health and Human Services, the budget plan makes allocations for improving the state child welfare program and accountability in the program, as well as allocating $150 million to the Medicaid Transformation Reserve over two years to prepare for Medicaid reform.
The budget plan would also seek to improve oversight over prescription opiates to help combat drug addiction.
The budget plan also includes a proposal that would have the state charge 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles in the penal system instead of charging them as adults.
Berger said that including this proposal in the budget shows the Senate’s commitment to that measure. The change would be phased in by Dec. 1, 2020.
The budget would also seek to strengthen enforcement and awareness of human trafficking in the state.
Included in the budget is the Senate’s $1 billion tax cut plan to drop the personal income tax from 5.499 percent to 5.35 percent in 2018, and also make cuts to the state corporate income tax.
The majority of the cuts would come in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, but in the next fiscal year legislators project a $300 million tax burden relief.