By Theresa Opeka
Gov. Roy Cooper signed the state’s $27.9 billion General Fund budget into law Monday afternoon. He had until the end of the day to either sign it, let it become law on its own, or veto it.
“Today, I signed the state budget (HB 103) that includes critical investments in education, economic development, transportation, and the state workforce,” Cooper said in a statement. “This budget does not include Medicaid Expansion, but the leadership in both the House and Senate now support it and both chambers have passed it. Negotiations are occurring now, and we are closer than ever to agreement on Medicaid Expansion, therefore a veto of this budget would be counterproductive.”
Cooper also announced that the state of emergency declared on March 10, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic will end on August 15, which will mark 888 days of being in place. He said it is ending because the budget included changes in the law requested by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
In a joint statement, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said, “The General Assembly passed the 2022 budget with strong bipartisan support, and we are pleased Gov. Cooper signed this responsible spending plan into law. Moving forward, we are committed to working together to improve healthcare access and expand Medicaid, while providing the necessary safeguards to preserve the state’s fiscal strength. Active negotiations are occurring now toward that end.”
During the unveiling of the budget, Berger said the state has a current surplus of $6 billion, of which $2 billion is expected to be recurring and the rainy-day fund balance is projected to be $4.75 billion at the end of the biennium, an increase from the $4.25 billion that was projected in the last budget. A $1 billion state inflationary reserve was also created in anticipation of a recession.
Among the budget’s other highlights are salary increases for teachers and state employees. The new starting salary for teachers is increased to $37,000 with additional supplements. Teachers will see an average raise of 4.2%, bringing the average teacher pay raise to 6.7% over the biennium. Over the biennium, including bonuses, teachers will receive an average of 14.2% in additional compensation. Noncertified public school employees, like bus drivers, will receive either a 4% pay raise or an increase to $15/hour, whichever is greater.
Most state employees will see a 3.5% pay raise, for a 6% raise over the biennium. State retirees will also receive an additional 1% cost-of-living-adjustment bonus, bringing it up to 4% over the biennium.
Education funding grows to an additional $1 billion over the 2021-22 budget year, for a total of $16.5 billion.
School safety will receive an additional recurring $15 million for the School Resource Officer Grant program, specifically for elementary and middle schools, and an additional $32 million for School Safety Grants to support students in crisis, school safety training, and safety equipment in schools.
The budget also calls for transferring 2% of sales tax revenue — approximately $193.1 million — to the Highway Fund due to declining revenue to support a variety of transportation purposes, increasing to 6% in 2024-25 and thereafter.
Nearly $15 million has also been allocated for mental health resources across the state.
Additional items include $883 million for water and wastewater infrastructure projects, bringing the total amount available for water and wastewater infrastructure for the biennium to $2.5 billion, and $1.8 million was appropriated from the federal Help America Vote Act grant to update and maintain voter lists and to continue enhancing election technology and security improvements.