(Editor’s note: Sen. Brent Jackson’s column normally runs on the Oped page each week, but because of its length we moved it inside.)
A couple of weeks ago, I used this column to summarize the major changes to the Natural and Economic Resources (NER) budget. This week, I will break down and explain the overall budget, including changes to education, healthcare, transportation and public safety.
I continually heard from constituents that they expected the General Assembly to balance the budget without raising taxes and I am proud to say we did that. Overall, the budget is $20.6 B, which is a 2.5 percent increase on overall spending while laying the groundwork for the largest tax cut in state history. We accomplished this despite having to deal with $1.5 B in unexpected Medicaid costs.
Below are the higlights of the 2013 State Budget:
We allocated 56 percent of the general fund to public education, which amounts to $300 M more than last year’s budget. We also implemented changes aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the money spent on education by giving local administrators the tools to reward their most productive teachers. In addition, the new merit-based pay program gives local school districts funding for annual raises for the top 25 percent of teachers.
We added $23.6 M to continue funding the Excellent Public Schools Act, which will strengthen student literacy, improve graduation rates and increase accountability.
We implemented a pilot program for opportunity scholarships in FY 2014-15.
We provided funding to implement critical school safety measures and expand the use of technology and innovation in schools.
We eliminated the K-12 flex cut for local school districts to make the budget process more transparent. In past years, local school districts were appropriated inflated funds and required to return a significant portion to the State.
We allowed local school districts increased flexibility to use state dollars where there is the greatest need.
We expanded the proven, cost-effective Teach for America model to encourage recruitment of North Carolina college students and military veterans to teach at-risk students.
We restored $33 M in recurring state funds to our community colleges.
We provided $10 M for critical equipment needs.
We funded the N.C. Back to Work program, providing nearly $5 M to allow for a more effective job placement program.
We increased opportunities for students to learn in-demand vocational skills by authorizing the community college system to admit high school freshmen and sophomores to career technical education and industrial engineering courses.
We made responsible budgeting changes and created a funding reserve for need-based financial aid in order to provide universities with certainty about financial aid availability in future school years.
We incorporated the changes identified by the university system in their Strategic Directions Plan. These include administrative and operational savings, instructional efficiencies and program consolidation efforts.
Health and Human Services
Governor Pat McCrory is leading the effort to reform Medicaid and our budget allows the Executive Branch to develop a comprehensive plan for reform. This action is the first step toward bringing about meaningful change to Medicaid. Our health care budget is focused on rewarding health care providers for increased efficiency and better care; and providing increased support for our state’s mentally ill and their families.
We budgeted over $1.5 B in additional state dollars to fund out-of-control costs associated with Medicaid. Part of that explosive growth is the result of federally-mandated changes in the Affordable Care Act, which total $49 M in FY 2013-14 and $114 M in FY 2014-15.
We provided support to our state’s mentally ill and developmentally disabled by appropriating $4.6 M in the form of temporary assistance for individuals living in group homes.
We established and funded a statewide telepsychiatry program to improve access to psychiatric care for patients in rural areas.
We kept Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centers open, with a directive to find inefficiencies.
We established regional rates for payment of hospital inpatient services to eliminate the wide, and often unfair, disparities in how hospitals are paid for the same service.
The budget continues efforts to maintain and invest in critical infrastructure, remove political influence from project decision-making, reduce bureaucracy and enhance customer service.
The budget included the Governor’s vision for overhauling the North Carolina Highway Trust Fund, by consolidating various funding streams to prioritize and accelerate transportation infrastructure projects at the state, regional and local levels by an estimated 35 percent over the next ten years.
We continued our efforts to remove politics from transportation decision-making by eliminating named projects from statute, including previously mandated toll projects and other funds, while mandating a data-driven prioritization process that includes local input to select future transportation investments.
We provided funding for targeted maintenance needs, focusing on improving, repairing and replacing structurally deficient bridges and roadways.
We improved DMV customer service by replacing information technology systems, extending operating hours at DMV and allowing the acceptance of credit/debit card payments.
The new budget emphasizes a commitment to keeping North Carolinians safe by providing funding for additional public safety personnel, investments in critical emergency response technology and connecting law enforcement agencies at the local and state levels.
We restored funding to 69 trooper positions within the State Highway Patrol and provided increased funding for needed fuel, equipment and training.
We added 22 magistrates and 175 probation and parole officers across the state to ensure cases are processed smoothly and criminal offenders are supervised and complying with the law.
We provided funding for laboratory equipment and 19 new positions at the North Carolina State Crime laboratory to provide critical support to criminal investigations being conducted by law enforcement agencies across the State.
We fully funded the upgrade and maintenance of VIPER technology to enhance public safety and emergency response communication.
We created a framework for modernizing the state’s outdated IT infrastructure - a move that will strengthen the security of personal data stored in state systems and provide North Carolinians with a more customer-friendly e-government experience.
We funded an innovative strategic plan for IT needs that will enable state agencies to be more responsive and cost efficient while eliminating redundancies that cost valuable time and taxpayer dollars.
We set aside approximately $230 M for the “rainy day” fund to protect against future shortfalls, bringing the total to approximately $650 M.
Finally, I want to reiterate our commitment to rural economic development. Historically, there have been numerous funds that rural local governments and rural small business owners have used for financial assistance with water projects and infrastructure needs. We provided “one-stop shopping” through two new entities important to rural North Carolina.
The Division of Water Infrastructure, with oversight of the Water Infrastructure Authority (WIA) and housed in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, will be managed by the Director of the Division of Water Infrastructure. WIA has been appropriated state funds to provide grants to Tier-1 and -2 counties for critical/public health infrastructure needs. This division will also distribute federal loan and grant funds to local governments across the State with critical water and wastewater infrastructure needs. Local governments that used to have to apply to four different state agencies for their water and wastewater projects will now have one place to go to get their questions answered and needs addressed. We provided $87.53 M in FY 2013-14 and $91.34 M in FY 2014-15 to this division.
The second, the Rural Economic Development Division, with oversight of the Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA), will be managed by a new Assistant Secretary at the Department of Commerce and has been appropriated $39.08 M in FY 2013-14 and $45.60 M in FY 2014-15 in state and federal funds. This division will help primarily Tier-1 and -2 counties and provide infrastructure needs for creating and retaining jobs. Infrastructure needs include water/sewer, natural gas, electrical utility distribution lines, broadband, transportation, etc.
Local Swimmer Competes in National Senior Games
Sampson County resident Dorothea Smith traveled to Ohio at the end of July to compete in six events: the 100-, 200-, and 500-meter Freestyle and the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter Backstroke. Her excellent performance earned her five total ribbons: a 4th place, a 5th place and three 7th place finishes. Dorothea, or “Thea” to her friends and family, has been swimming competitively for eight years and is preparing for her next competition in Cary on Sept. 28th. Please join me in congratulating Dorothea on her outstanding performace and wishing her the best of luck in future contests.
NJHS Student carries faith and baseball to the Czech Republic
16-year old Michael Stott recently returned from his fourth mission trip to the Czech Republic, where he and several other student-athletes have used baseball as the “door that opens fellowship”. During their two-week trip, the students played ball, talked about their faith, and did some sightseeing in and around Prague. The missions are organized through Purpose Driven Baseball, an affiliate of the International Purpose Driven program.
NC Ports Authority Addresses Leaders on “Developing Duplin”
The inaugural Developing Duplin conference brought community and business leaders together to discuss the vital role of the Ports Authority in importing and exporting and in recruiting businesses and industry to the State. The meeting included a keynote presentation by Jimmy Yokeley, Director of Community Economic Development with the NC State Ports Authority, who discussed Duplin County’s designation as a Strategic Economic Development Location. Developing Duplin is a series of meetings focused on generating new ideas for economic development in the area and is planned to take place each week at James Sprunt Community College in Kenansville.
District 10 Spotlight
Dylan Blackburn of Midway High School
Congratulations to Dylan for earning the rank of Eagle Scout after 10 years of involvement with Boy Scout Troop 55 in Westbrook, NC. His award was presented in front of friends and family at the Shady Grove Original Free Will Baptist Church on August 4th. In order to earn this distinction, Dylan planned and executed a service project that resulted in the construction of a 25-foot flag pole and brick base at the Westbrook Community Building. Thanks to his efforts, the American flag will now proudly wave over the building that serves as a voting center for Westbrook and a meeting place for Troop 55. Please join me in congratulating Dylan on his outstanding achievement and commitment to community service and wishing him all the best in his future endeavours.
If you would like to nominate someone for this, please do so by emailing email@example.com naming the candidate and briefly describing why this person deserves this honorable mention.
In closing, I appreciate you allowing me to serve you in the NC General Assembly and if I can ever be of service to you, please feel free to contact me at 919-733-5705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/wbrentjackson and follow my new Twitter page at https://twitter.com/SenJackson. I look forward to hearing from you!