The North Carolina General Assembly adjourned the 2019–2020 session today. Amid the backdrop of a global pandemic and a nearly $5 billion budget shortfall, the Senate passed landmark legislation to address COVID-19 relief, added new oversight procedures to the Department of Transportation, enacted criminal justice reforms, and raised teacher pay.
“When we started this year’s short session, we expected to have a $1 billion surplus,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) said. “But the world became vastly different because of the Coronavirus. The budgeting practices put in place years ago better positioned North Carolina to respond to this financial downturn.”
When Republicans gained the majority in the General Assembly they prioritized saving money to prepare for another recession after watching the Democrats’ tax-and-spend policies fail, plunging the state into debt. North Carolina entered the pandemic with a multi-billion cash reserve and a nearly $4 billion unemployment reserve.
Budget bills passed this year will ensure the state can continue operating so necessary services won’t be shut down to make up for lost revenues because of the pandemic and Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide shutdown.
Over the last five years, the General Assembly delivered the third-highest pay raise in the entire country to teachers, despite Gov. Cooper vetoing every teach pay raise that came across his desk thus far.
“North Carolina now ranks second in the southeast because of Republican-led teacher pay raises,” Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga) said. “It wasn’t too long ago that Democrats had to fire teachers and cut their salaries because of their budgetary pratfalls.”
The session could have had even more accomplishments. The legislature passed a historic $212 million investment in historically black colleges and universities, $22 million for intellectual and developmentally disabled individuals to receive care through the state’s Innovations Waiver, $4.4 billion in cash for school construction over the next 10 years, and millions of dollars in investments in communities across the state. Unfortunately, Gov. Cooper blocked those major initiatives over his ill-fated Medicaid-or-nothing gambit.
This session the General Assembly also passed two life-changing criminal justice reform bills. The “First Step Act” gives judges discretion for low-level drug crimes and the “Second Chance Act” makes it easier to expunge certain crimes.
The General Assembly also passed a law to rein in spending by the Department of Transportation after an audit found it had overspent by nearly $750 million.
“Republicans in the legislature have made incredible strides since 2011,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said. “The last two years have been about good governance. We’ve practiced discipline in spending and increased our state’s savings to prepare for the worst. States across the country are preparing to cut services and raise taxes to fill budget holes. Thankfully, because of our preparation and foresight, North Carolina is not one of them.”