(The Center Square) – North Carolina House Democrats showed their support Thursday for Gov. Roy Cooper's biennium budget proposal, but some appropriations leaders continued to express concern over the increase in spending over the next two years.
Cooper has proposed North Carolina spends $27.4 billion in fiscal year 2022 and $28.5 billion in fiscal year 2023. The plan reflects a nearly $5 billion increase in spending by using money from the state's reserves.
State Budget Director Charlie Perusse presented the governor's recommended budget Thursday morning to Senate and House budget writers.
Perusse said the unappropriated balance includes money that was leftover at the end of last fiscal year, "which was $450 million, anticipated overcollection of revenues in the current year, which with the consensus revenue forecast is $4.1 billion, and then we anticipate about 400 million in reversions or money not being spent in the general fund in the current year."
Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, said lawmakers should consider returning the unspent funds to North Carolinians.
"It looks like we had our budget of $24 billion. The last one we had that I remember, and now it looks like it's gonna be $29 billion," Hurley said. "Was there any discussion about maybe returning some of the taxpayer dollars to the taxpayers?"
Perusse said there is increasing demand for the funding because the state has not passed a "comprehensive" budget since the 2018-2019 fiscal year and North Carolina's population has grown since then.
North Carolina's population increased by nearly 106,500 individuals from July 1, 2018, to July 1, 2019, according to U.S. Census Bureau of Statistics.
During a news conference after Thursday's budget hearing, Rep. Brandon Lofton, D-Mecklenburg, said the state has "unfulfilled obligations" to teachers who did not get a raise during the last biennium.
The teacher raises have been a source of contention between state Democrats and Republicans after Cooper vetoed the budget in June 2019. The governor said the spending bill did not earmark enough money for teachers.
Cooper's recommendation in his previous budget proposal called for about a nearly 9% pay raise for state educators before the Republican-authored budget passed through the General Assembly with a 3.8% raise.
In November 2019, Cooper also vetoed Senate Bill 354, which would have given teachers a 3.9% pay raise and up to 4.4% in bonuses.
Cooper's proposal for the new biennium includes bonuses for all state educators in schools, colleges and universities. Teachers also would get an average salary increase of 10%. Noncertified school employees would be guaranteed $15 an hour and would receive a 7.5% raise. University and community college staff also would get a 7.5% raise over the two years.
"Any proposal to cut state revenue should make sure that we can fulfill our constitutional duties to provide some basic education for children, pay our teachers and our teaching assistants and all our school support staff the wages that they need and fulfill our obligation as a state," Lofton said.
Republicans in proposed in 2019 the Taxpayer Refund Act, which would have sent rebate checks of up to $125 to $250 to North Carolinians from the state's tax surplus, but the measure failed.
Cooper's budget plan would offer some tax relief to North Carolinians through state-level child and dependent care tax credits and earned income tax credits.
Perusse said compromises must be made during the budget drafting process. He and Cooper hope state leaders can find common ground and completely pass a budget this biennium, Perusse said.
"Because that's what the 10.5 million people in North Carolina want us to do," he said. "They want us to work together, and when we work together, we accomplish more."