The dust is still settling on the $21.1 billion budget signed into law earlier this month, with details still emerging about the lesser-known policy and funding changes buried deep in the 260-page document.
The budget passed by the Republican-led legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory gave teachers significant raises in varying amounts. It also carved out $500 raises for the teacher assistants, bus drivers, and janitors that work alongside the teachers — less than the $1,000 that other state employees are receiving. Several school districts have also announced plans to cut hours or eliminate teacher assistant positions because enough funding didn’t come through in the final budget.
In a previous piece, we highlighted some of the lesser known details in the budget, including an obscure change to get rid of automatic adjustments to school funding for enrollment growth that school superintendents say will disrupt how they plan the school year. Several school superintendents have since said that McCrory’s office is working behind the scenes to fix the funding formula and restore some of the teacher assistant funding.
The budget still has some fairly significant policy and funding changes that haven’t yet gotten a lot of attention.
Here are a few more changes that went through that you may not have heard about.
— Close to $1 million in cuts to the Home and Community Care Block Grant, which parcels out money to counties to pay for things like Meals on Wheels and other services to help homebound seniors. Advocates say the cut could put help that thousands of seniors statewide depend on at risk when the state’s elderly population is growing and 16,000 are already on waitlists. “We’re very concerned about what’s going to happen with the thousands that depend on it,” said Joan Pelletier, of the Triangle J Area Agency on Aging. “This is so important for human dignity.”
— Requires school boards to put epinephrine pens (EpiPens) in all public schools, for emergency situations dealing with children suffering from severe allergic reactions.
— Assistant principals with up to 10 years of education experience didn’t get any pay raises under the new (and confusing) salary schedule the legislators developed for educators. The assistant principals will instead receive a one-time bonus of $809, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
— Unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, can no longer be used by people or state agencies to conduct surveillance without landowners’ consent. The law carves out some exceptions for law enforcement and media covering news event, and makes adding a weapon to a drone a felony. Outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen need to pay attention: using a drone to hunt or fish is now a misdemeanor. Some of the wording in the budget still leaves questions about how to legally use drones, and the new rules may make it difficult to use drones to take photographs or video for artistic purposes, said Sarah Preston, of the ACLU of North Carolina. “There’s still a lot of stuff that’s left up in the air,” she said.
— North Carolina lawmakers want to take control of Oregon Inlet, a fishing inlet on the Outer Banks whose shallow waters and shifting sands prove difficult for commercial fishing vessels to navigate. Federal officials have long opposed a proposal to install jetties that would allow for deeper channels. In the budget (language begins on page 118) lawmakers outline an ambitious process for the state to first ask, and then to condemn and try to seize the federal land that surrounds the inlet, as reported earlier this week by the News & Observer.
— Sets six-year terms for 14 deputy commissioners on the N.C. Industrial Commission, who will be selected by the new chair of the Industrial Commission, a McCrory appointee. The deputy commissioners, who preside over worker’s compensation cases, had been state employees with protections under the State Personnel Act, but are now in appointed positions. The deputy commissioner appointments will begin in two rounds next February and August, with a possibility that an entirely new slate of deputy commissioner could be in place by next summer.
— The Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby (which is partly in the district for N.C. House Rules Committee Chairman Tim Moore) received $250,000 in the budget. The money was the last step to fund the $6 million project, which opened in January in a historic courthouse, and honors the iconic bluegrass musician born in Shelby.
— The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, in January, will make changes to the “preferred drug” list for mental health providers, a move that the legislature hopes will net $12 million in savings. The agency can also move to require prior authorization and other restrictions to keep costs down.
— Funding came through this year to begin drug testing some social welfare recipients. Lawmakers had put the drug testing in place (and overcame a veto from Gov. Pat McCrory) in the 2013 recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. But that edict didn’t come with any money, and this year’s budget fixes that with nearly $350,000 in a combination of recurring and one — time dollars, according to this comprehensive breakdown of the budget by N.C. Health News.
— Puts a $400,000 cap on what local library systems can receive from the NC. Department of Cultural Resources’ Aid to Public Libraries Fund. The cap will affect large, urban counties, with only Wake (Raleigh), Mecklenburg (Charlotte) and a Sandhill regional library system receiving more than $400,000 in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to information kept by the State Library of North Carolina.
Sarah Ovaska is a reporter at N.C. Policy Watch. She can be reached at (919-861-1463 or email@example.com.