RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina’s state budget took effect Tuesday, authorizing tax cuts, pay raises, Medicaid expansion and changes to open records laws that make it harder for the public to access information.
Republicans unveiled their final budget agreement in September and quickly passed it less than 48 hours later. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said he had a variety of concerns about it, but he allowed the budget to go into law without his signature so as not to delay the implementation of Medicaid expansion. Republicans also have a supermajority that could have overridden a veto.
The nearly $30 billion budget will speed up the Republicans’ plan to reduce the state’s personal income tax rate, dropping it incrementally each year from the current 4.75% down to 3.99% in 2026. After that, it could drop as low as 2.49% if the state meets certain revenue targets.
“We wanted to see continued tax relief as well. But, we wanted to make sure there were protections in case you ran into a situation where you had a potential shortfall,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “And, it allows for tax relief but it doesn’t jeopardize the fiscal stability of the state.”
Republicans also agreed to give raises to state employees and teachers that amount to 7% on average over the next two years. The pay raises will be retroactive to July 1.
Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said the raises aren’t high enough to help state agencies attract more people to fill key positions. About one in four jobs in state government is vacant, according to data from the Office of State Human Resources.
SEANC has called on lawmakers to approve a $5,000 bonus for state workers by the end of the year.
“We don’t have to operate like a state that is broke. We don’t have to operate with very minimal services for our public,” Watkins said. “Then people will get terrible services and they’re in danger. And, the only thing that seems like changes things down here is when something terrible happens.”
The budget allows North Carolina to expand Medicaid coverage to about 600,000 low-income people who’ve struggled to afford health insurance. State health officials say that coverage will go live on Dec. 1.
Republicans also included a plan to significantly expand the state’s school voucher program known as the Opportunity Scholarship. Every family will become eligible for funding to send their children to private schools. People at the lower end of the income scale will be eligible for more money than those at the upper end.
The budget also makes important changes to the state’s open records laws, making state lawmakers exempt from those requirements. In addition, the budget specifically makes documents in the redistricting process exempt from the open records laws.
Republicans are meeting privately in Raleigh this week to redraw the maps for the state’s electoral districts. The General Assembly is expected to vote next week on new district lines for North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats, which will affect how easily Democrats and Republicans can win seats. While there’s currently a 7-7 split between the two parties, the redrawn districts could help Republicans gain three to four seats in next year’s election.
Republicans chose not to draw the maps in public view this year. A few years ago following a court order, they drew the maps over several days in a room accessible to the public that was live-streamed for people to see.
“Remember, a lot of the redistricting things that take place are controlled by what the courts will tell us, both the federal and state courts as to what information is available,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).