By Charlotte Smith
In a late-night session, the North Carolina legislature made a significant move by approving a long-delayed $30 billion spending plan. The final vote in the House, which took place after midnight, was a close 70-40, with about five Democrats crossing party lines to join Republicans in support of the bill. Meanwhile, the Senate voted along party lines, with a 28-19 vote, demonstrating the partisan nature of this budget approval.
The approved budget encompasses a wide range of provisions aimed at addressing critical issues in the state and boosting economic growth. Here’s a closer look at some of the key elements of the budget and how they may impact the local economy.
Employee Raises: State employees will see a boost in their income with a 4% pay raise this year, followed by an additional 3% raise next year. For educators, the budget proposes an increase in starting pay for teachers by $2,000, raising it to $39,000. Overall, the plan includes an average pay increase of 7% for teachers.
Tax Rate Reduction: The budget outlines a plan to reduce the personal income tax rate to just under 4% by 2026. However, this reduction will be contingent on meeting revenue targets emphasizing fiscal responsibility.
Infrastructure Investments: Chuck Heustess, Bladen County Economic Development Director, expressed his optimism about the budget, highlighting significant investments in infrastructure projects. Among these projects is a $14 million allocation for the Bladenboro to Elizabethtown sewer infrastructure project. “The project has been a top priority for the County for decades. It is good that we ended up with a strong state budget that would finally allow this project to be funded.”
Heustess added, “It is exciting to see what we can start planning for in the future, having sewer capacity in the Bladenboro community.”
“We are thankful for the funding because we needed it. We appreciate Representative William Brisson working so hard to secure the funding to help our local community,” said Blake Proctor, Town of Bladenboro Interim Town Administrator and Town Commissioner.
Live-Work-Play Project: The budget also allocates $15 million for infrastructure development in the Live, Work, Play Project in Elizabethtown, NC. Heustess said, “We are excited about this investment because it addresses various critical needs in Bladen County, such as housing, healthcare, daycare, and professional services.”
Aviation Sector Advancement: Notably, the budget earmarks $6.5 million for investment in the aviation sector. Heustess, who read the hundreds of pages of budget documents, expects this significant allocation to spur advancements in the aviation industry, creating career growth and development opportunities in Bladen County, NC.
Support for Law Enforcement: The budget includes around $300,000 in funding for the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office for the training center.
Sheriff Jim McVicker says, “I appreciate the legislators, Representative William Brisson and Senator Brent Jackson, for emphasizing the importance of public safety in the region.”
Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Millions of dollars are allocated for “crisis pregnancy centers,” organizations that counsel women against abortion.
Megan Knight, Executive Director with the Mercy House in Elizabethtown, NC said, “We are going to apply for the LIFElink Carolina grant in January. We plan to use the funding to offer counseling and other services to pregnant women.”
Additionally, the budget includes several other noteworthy provisions:
– Introduction of free school lunches for children who qualify for reduced-price lunches.
– $20 million earmarked for research on PFAS contamination through the N.C. Policy Collaboratory.
– Establishment of “citizen review panels” to oversee child protective services agencies, alongside the creation of a state office of child fatality prevention.
– Restrictions on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state workers.
– $700 million designated for highway maintenance projects.
– $1.2 million allocated for childcare grants.
With the budget now in the hands of Governor Roy Cooper, it is expected to pass without a veto. The approved spending plan reflects a comprehensive effort by North Carolina legislators to address critical issues, invest in infrastructure, and enhance the quality of life for local residents.
Heustess explained the budgeted funding will help the County meet goals that have been in place for years. He thanked legislators and representatives, stating, “We appreciate Representative Brisson and Senator Jackson. We are also fortunate to have neighboring Legislators Rabon and Britt and Representative Jones supporting our projects.”
These budgeted provisions may significantly impact North Carolina’s economy and the well-being of its citizens for years to come.