By Reaghan Waites, Civitas Intern
In June, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the GOP-backed $24 billion budget declaring it “an astonishing failure of common sense and common decency.”
The budget—which among other things would have increased teacher pay by 3.9 percent and provided funding to clear the state’s rape kit backlog— was instead scrapped by Cooper, forcing legislators’ to scramble to find an alternative.
On June 30, the fiscal year ended, leaving North Carolina to operate under last years’ spending levels. Non-recurring funds are considered unnecessary, and are discontinued under the current carry-over budget.
Donald Bryson, president of the Civitas Institute, proposed a solution to the budget conflict in a recent article. According to Bryson, “conservatives at the General Assembly should pass a smaller spending bill, which accounts for increases in required government services.”
Lawmakers appear to be doing just that. In July, the House passed House Bill 111, the “Supplemental Appropriations Act,” to fill the gaps left by Cooper’s veto. Leah Byers, policy analyst for the Civitas Institute, wrote an article summarizing the spending breakdown in the bill. The bill is currently sitting in the Senate appropriations committee and further action will likely be taken over the coming weeks.
In addition to providing for required government services, lawmakers are also concerned about addressing the allotment of federal block grants. The legislature recently addressed this issue with House Bill 961, originally titled “Funds for Workforce Development/ Hospitality.”
On Tuesday the Senate Appropriations Committee, spearheaded by Sen. Harry Brown, introduced a Proposed Committee Substitute (PCS) to the bill. The PCS changes the title of the bill to “Ensuring Authorization of Federal Funds.” It also specifies that the primary purpose of the bill is to “provide for certain federal funding.”
Specifically, it appropriates block grants to state agencies and provides funding for the suicide prevention hotline. While introducing the PCS in committee on Tuesday, Sen. Harry Brown remarked that the “purpose is to avoid delay and confusion” in the administration of block grant funds.
Below is a summary of spending totals specified in the bill:
In addition, the bill sets aside $348,558 in non-recurring funds for the 2019-2020 fiscal year to be used for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Funding for the lifeline was originally not included in last years’ budget, but had to be added in through the Technical Corrections bill, so HB 961 is crucial to ensuring the lifeline remains up and running.
This PCS comes in response to lawmakers expressing concern over potentially losing federal dollars as a result of failure to reach a budget compromise. Federal block grants, as well as the suicide prevention line, should not suffer from the budget stalemate. This bill ensures that federal funds are continued and utilized regardless of how long the budget impasse lasts.
House Bill 961 is a first step towards enacting a solution to the problem created by Cooper’s veto. In fact, Cooper’s veto gives legislators the much-needed opportunity to evaluate which programs are crucial to the state and which are not, thus protecting taxpayers and streamlining state spending.