N.C. legislative building

RALEIGH Republicans in the N.C. Senate unveiled spending priorities on Tuesday for the coming fiscal year, labeling what they consider their must-haves despite plummeting revenues caused by the COVID-19 economic downturn.

The Senate’s three leading budget-writers filed nearly 20 bills, with an emphasis on making sure teachers and workers get paid, K-12 schools and higher education can instruct more students and funding continues for key long-term projects.

The government spending bills largely lack price tags. The three senators — Republicans Harry Brown, Kathy Harrington and Brent Jackson — said in a news release that the amounts won’t be clear until state economists release an updated tax collections forecast.

That projection could be released this week, but Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Monday that they could have to deal with a $4 billion shortfall during the next fiscal year. A previous forecast months before the pandemic projected the state would collect $26 billion in revenues next year. Berger has said repeatedly his goal is to avoid layoffs of state employees and significant cuts like those required during the Great Recession a decade ago.

One Senate bill would put an additional $623 million in the state’s rainy day fund, which currently holds almost $1.2 billion.

The Senate’s spending priorities will compete with those from the Republican-controlled House and from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper during the annual General Assembly session, which is likely to continue through June.

The budget process ran off the tracks last year when Cooper vetoed the GOP’s two-year spending plan and attempts at compromise sputtered. State government has operated this year under a series of separate “mini-budget” bills that Cooper agreed to sign.

Another bill filed Tuesday would create a reserve fund to pay salaries for teachers, police officers and other key workers. Other bills would cover enrollment growth in the public schools and the university and community college systems.

Proposals also would provide money for UNC system building construction; and maintenance; to pay the state’s debt service and retirement contributions; and to ensure Medicaid’s long-delayed switch to managed care takes place before January.

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