Last week in the North Carolina House of Representatives we spent almost every waking hour on the 2017 – 2019 state budget, we handled approximately 100 amendments to the budget, and approved the House budget in the early hours Friday morning.
Even before the week started I was privileged to visit Belville Elementary School the previous Friday at the request of one of the outstanding school parent volunteers. Also meeting the Principal, Dr. Rick Hessman, and Ms. Jessica Swencki from the central office, I was able to get a good tour of the classrooms that will be impacted by the reduced class size legislation that has passed and which is still in progress.
The week started early Tuesday, where we adjourned for important committee meetings and came back for an afternoon session filled with bills involving broadband siting, a sex offender registry fee, tax policy, and other important subjects.
Wednesday was selected for the all day House Appropriations Committee meeting to present the House budget and take amendments from the more than 70 members of the committee. We started at 8:30 and were able to finish by 4:30. Frequently, this meeting can go well past dinner hour. We were able to handle 60 amendments and vote the bill out in record time. I was involved in presenting the transportation portion of the budget, but had comments on the education budget, particularly on two items. One provision brings back the Teaching Fellows program, which I supported. I expressed some concern over Community Colleges joining their Information Technology (IT) system with the state’s IT department (DIT). The colleges don’t think it is helpful at this time. This was later corrected by amendment.
After being voted out of committee, Senate Bill 257 – Appropriations Act of 2017, better known as the budget, moved to the House floor on Thursday. After handling 40 more amendments in the late afternoon and night it passed second reading about 10:00 by a vote of 82 – 34. It was a bipartisan vote with 12 Democrats joining 70 Republicans to pass it. Friday morning we reconvened after midnight and voted it out 80 – 31 around 12:30.
The House general fund budget spends $22.9 billion in 2017-2018 and $23.8 billion in 2018-2019. Education comprises 57% of the budget in both years. The Medicaid portions are $3.7 billion in the first year and $3.8 billion in the second. With Education taking 57%, Health and Human Services taking 23%, and Justice and Public Safety taking 12%, this allows 8% to run all the other departments of state government, except transportation.
Transportation is a separate budget, funded by the motor fuels taxes, highway use taxes on vehicle sales, and DMV fees. Transportation spends $2.3 billion in the Highway Fund to maintain roads, bridges, ferries, and all other related infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund, which builds new roads, bridges and other infrastructure spends $1.5 billion in the first year and $1.6 billion in the second. Some additional federal funds can supplement this construction.
The budget now goes to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and we expect them to not concur. Conferees will be appointed, and we will negotiate the differences to come up with a consensus budget to be adopted by both chambers.