N Carolina budget gets final OK, quickly signed by Cooper

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, speaks to reporters in the Legislative Building in Raleigh on Thursday after the House gave final approval to a state government budget bill. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill into law later Thursday.

State legislators said the two-year state budget signed by Gov. Roy Cooper last week delivers much needed funding for projects that will benefit area residents including a new medical school and food processing center in Ayden.

Cooper acted almost immediately after the Republican-controlled legislature sent the bill to his desk on Thursday, the Associated Press reported. The House voted 101-10 earlier in the day in favor of the measure, the day after the Senate gave the chamber’s final OK to the bill by a vote of 41-7. Each chamber also held similar, preliminary votes backing the plan earlier in the week.

The plan includes up to $215 million for a new Brody School of Medicine building at East Carolina University in addition to more than $82 million for additional renovations and repairs at the university, said Rep. Brian Farkas, who represents much of Greenville and southeast Pitt County in District 9.

It also includes $4 million for a long-planned food processing facility in Ayden, $14.5 million for a workforce technology center at Pitt Community College, more than $2 million for capital improvements at the Pitt-Greenville Airport, and more than $3 million for more than a half dozen other initiatives.

“Pitt County has a lot to celebrate today,” Farkas said. “I’m proud to deliver a bipartisan budget that will make a positive, transformational impact for years to come.”

Farkas said the Brody funding was his top priority. “Our success on behalf of Pitt County clearly demonstrates that when you push past partisan games, build genuine relationships with people from all backgrounds, and hustle like there’s no tomorrow, the sky’s the limit. And we’re just getting started.”

The Democrat was joined by District 12 Rep. Chris Humphey, a Republican who represents parts of southern Pitt County, in praising the spending plan.

In addition to funding for local projects and investments in education, health care and infrastructure, it delivered fiscal savings and tax cuts, Humphrey said.

“I’m proud of our work to deliver this strong, conservative budget for our community,” he said. “The resources we’re putting into these critical local projects, along with our fiscal restraint and tax cuts, will prove to be a worthy investment for decades to come.”

District 8 Rep. Kandie Smith, a democrat who represents northern and western parts of Pitt County, said she was happy the plan delivered raises for teachers and state employees, and COLA adjustments for retirees.

“But there are sections of this budget that do concern me as well,” she said. “Yet again we have failed to secure Medicaid expansion, which means that hundreds of thousands of people in our state will go another two years without access to insurance. This budget also directs future tax breaks toward corporations and the wealthy rather than the middle class and lower income North Carolinians.”

Two years ago, a comprehensive spending plan passed with little bipartisan support was never enacted due to Cooper’s veto and a negotiating impasse with the GOP majorities.

North Carolina had been the last state in the country without an enacted budget in place for this year.

“This will be a huge day for all of North Carolina,” House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said while holding the over 600-page ratified bill just before it was sent to Cooper.

The measure, which spends $25.9 billion this year, $27 billion next year and several billion dollars more in federal COVID-19 relief aid, was the result of weeks of negotiations between Moore, Senate leader Phil Berger and Cooper.

It wasn’t a consensus result, but the plan does reflect a lot of Cooper’s input. Cooper announced Tuesday that while he opposed many items in the final bill, including the elimination of the corporate income tax by the end of the decade and the absence of Medicaid expansion, the good in the bill outweighed the bad.

The budget, which was supposed to be in place by July 1, contains nearly $6 billion for state agency and higher education construction projects, as well as $1 billion in federal funds for expanding broadband and $1.7 billion for water and sewer projects.

Teachers will receive average 5% raises over two years and bonuses of up to $2,800. Other teachers will receive much higher salary increased through a special supplement that emphasizes retaining instructors in rural counties. Custodians and other non-instructional staff at schools also will be paid at least $15 an hour starting next year.

Most state employees also get 5% raises and bonuses.

Cooper on Thursday highlighted many of these provisions as “critical for our state to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever.”

Legislators now plan to return to Raleigh on Nov. 29, with a goal of wrapping up most of this year’s business that week, which could include addressing Cooper’s vetoes on other legislation. The General Assembly convened the session in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.