Local projects join teacher raises, tax cuts in state budget

Published 12:10 am Sunday, June 25, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Teacher pay raises and tax cuts are among the most discussed items included about the recently passed state budget, but several local entities also received allocations in the $23 billion spending document.

Local allocations include money for an additional assistant district attorney in Rowan County, $135,000 for downtown revitalization money for the Davie County town Cooleemee, $100,000 for downtown revitalization in Kannapolis, $100,000 for the East Spencer Housing Authority and $35,000 for ongoing work in China Grove’s Hanna Park, according to local legislators.

Notable statewide items in the budget include the following: a raise for teachers weighted toward those with more experience; a flat raise of $1,000 for most state employees; an increase in the standard tax deduction from $17,500 to $20,000 for couples who are married and file jointly and from $8,750 to $10,000 for those who are single; lowering the personal income tax rate from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent; an increase in the age at which juveniles can be charged as adults from 16 to 18 and $10 million for opioid and other substance abuse treatment centers across North Carolina.

Though Democratic support was limited, a bipartisan count in both bodies of the N.C. General Assembly approved the budget, which sets state government spending for the next two fiscal years. All of Rowan County’s members of the N.C. General Assembly voted for the measure on final passage.

“There’s just a lot of good things in there, and it just seemed like there was so much in it to crow about,” said Rep. Harry Warren, R-77.

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34, said this year’s budget was fiscally responsible while also including important spending measures.

“We’re being very frugal with how we invest the state’s money, and we are making sure we are making the best investments long term,” Brock said.

When asked about the budget, all of Rowan County’s state legislators touted tax changes and raises for teachers and state employees. State Rep. Carl Ford, R-76, said “continuing down the path of tax cuts” was the No. 1 thing he liked about the state’s spending document.

“99 percent of taxpayers will pay less in state taxes or no taxes at all as a result of our budget,” Ford said.

Ford also said the East Spencer Housing Authority would receive $100,000. China Grove would receive $35,000 to improve Hanna Park, he said.

The East Spencer money would “help more people stay in their homes,” Ford said. In China Grove, town government has already started a project to build a stage in Hanna Park. The $35,000 would assist the town in the 2017-2018 budget year, Ford said.

Like China Grove, Kannapolis is also slated to receive money for its downtown — $100,000. That money has not yet been allocated to a specific project, according to the city of Kannapolis.

Brock said he was not familiar with the $135,000 for Cooleemee, which sits at the border between Rowan and Davie counties.

All legislators were familiar with and spoke about the benefits of an additional district attorney in Rowan County. The state’s budget would increase the total from eight assistant district attorneys to nine.

“This is something that District Attorney (Brandy) Cook has been wanting ever since she got into office, and there was just an opportunity this year to get it,” Warren said.

He said Cook inherited one of the largest case backlogs in the state when she was elected in 2010.

Sen. Tom McInnis, R-25, said the additional position will be especially important as Cook prepares to prosecute those responsible for the death of Erica Parsons.

Even before the budget passed, Gov. Roy Cooper criticized the General Assembly’s approved budget. At a press conference last week, he called it the “most fiscally irresponsible budget” he had ever seen. In a more recent statement, the governor’s office said Republicans are shortchanging education, the economy and middle-class families.

“The Governor made clear that he thinks this budget lacks vision and unfairly picks winners and losers and he will announce his plans in coming days,” the governor’s office said in an emailed statement.

McInnis said the budget may not fully fund all of Cooper’s requests, but it addressed everything he asked for.

“We can’t climb the mountain but so high and so fast,” McInnis said.

Warren said it’s “politicizing the process” to say a budget could have been better. Regardless of the party in charge of state government, a budget can always be better, Warren said.

“There’s a finite amount of money and an unlimited number of priorities, and this addresses as many as you possibly can very adequately,” he said. “I can’t imagine a valid reason for (Cooper) to veto it.”

Brock said Cooper should have encouraged all Democrats to vote for the budget. Cooper should sign the budget, Brock said. Then, Cooper be able to take some credit for economic growth in the state, Brock said.

A Cooper veto would be akin to a vote against thousands of jobs, Ford and Warren said.

The budget includes an incentive program for companies that invest billions of dollars into the state and create at least 5,000 jobs. An unnamed company is reportedly considering building a facility that would create 8,000 jobs and qualify for the incentives.

Even if Cooper vetoes the budget, local legislators said it’s likely the legislature would override the veto.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.