Governor’s Health Care Budget Emphasizes Medicaid Expansion, Scaling Back Some Tax Breaks
Cooper’s announcement is only the opening act in a multi-part annual budget process. Lawmakers have been crafting their own budgets ahead of next week’s short legislative session. Cooper’s $24.5 billion plan includes giving hefty raises to teachers and other state employees. About $1.4 billion in anticipated cost for the expansion would be revenue-neutral to the state, because hospitals and health care systems would foot the bill, according to state budget director Charles Perusse. An issue brief published last year by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine noted about 60 percent of households that are uninsured and eligible for Medicaid under this expansion are already engaged in part- or full-time work.
Throughout the legislative interim, members of the state Senate have expressed their ongoing opposition to any attempts at expansion. The budget requests $11 million to go to Durham-based drug treatment program TROSA, and other programs which support people moving from addiction, through recovery and back into the workforce. All told, Cooper asks for $25.7 million in appropriations, for mental health priorities, including funding for a suicide prevention hotline. Cooper’s budget also earmarks $3.2 million for a program to help people being discharged from psychiatric facilities transition back into their communities. Smart Start, which provides a number of programs targeting 3- and 4-year-olds and their families with enrichment and early childhood education programs, would see a $15 million boost in the governor’s budget after years of being whittled away by legislative budget writers.
Currently, there’s about a 10,000 person waiting list, which legislators reduced by 400 slots in last year’s budget for the same price tag. Funding for many of Cooper’s proposals, from teacher raises to recruiting additional nurses to the prison system, would require legislative action to slow down tax cuts enacted in recent years by the Republican-led legislature, something that seems unlikely.
GOP budget includes ‘living wage’ minimum for state workers
RALEIGH, N.C. – Thousands of the lowest-paid state employees would receive substantial salary increases in the North Carolina budget bill moving quickly through the General Assembly. Republican budget negotiators announced Thursday that rank-and-file workers in state agencies would receive 2 percent raises, with all full-time worker salaries reaching at least $31,200. Currently the salary floor is $24,332, according to the State Employees Association of North Carolina, so raises could approach 30 percent for anyone near the current minimum. The exact number of workers affected by the salary floor is unclear. Rep.
Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican and senior House budget chairman, said 12 percent of the state workforce would benefit. The spending proposal adjusts the second year of the two-year state budget approved last June. Cooper proposed raises of 2 percent or $1,250, whichever is greater, to rank-and-file state workers. Cooper also offered additional $1,000 increases for state law enforcement officers and workers at state institutions. The legislature had already been in a multiyear effort to boost prison officer pay before the violent deaths of five correctional officers and staff workers last year, including four at a Pasquotank County prison.
The budget would expand the death benefit for family members of law enforcement and first responders killed in the line of duty to prison workers, and ensure those killed inside the prisons last year also receive the benefit, which also would be doubled for all to $100,000. The GOP budget also would provide additional one-time bonuses to state employee and teacher retirees equal to 1 percent of their annual pension. GOP lawmakers unveiled other portions of the budget adjustments in drips and drabs Thursday, including school safety and security improvements and a $10 million grant program designed to encourage broadband providers to expand high-speed access to unserved rural areas.
Raleigh students prepare for school safety summit as lawmakers battle over gun bill
Four days after the nation’s latest school shooting in Texas, a group of Raleigh high schoolers arrived at the state legislature fighting for some kind of political response to the epidemic. It was filed this week, aimed at taking guns out of the hands of dangerous people. It appears to be dead on arrival on Jones Street. HB976 creates what they are calling an Extreme Risk Protection Order – establishing a legal mechanism for family members or guardians – to remove guns and ammo from any individual, at least temporarily – if the person threatens to do harm to themselves or to others. The bill’s supporters tried to ease concerns that this was an attempt to restrict access to firearms.
That was good news for many guns rights activists, who say the bill takes away due process for gun owners. While the gun-reform debate raged inside the legislature – Outside the General Assembly, Greear Webb and his classmates at Sanderson High rallied for a non-partisan solution. The North Carolina Town Hall for School Safety is scheduled for next Tuesday, featuring a panel of lawmakers and law enforcement officials alongside school and mental health experts. Meantime, HB976 has no Republican support, at this point – holding only the hopes of Democrats that it will ever emerge out of the Rules Committee.