There was much to like about a budget approved by the General Assembly last week for the fiscal year that began Friday and still awaits Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature, which is no more than a formality.
The budget give teachers raises, and they are hefty, making the profession more attractive to young people who are bright and looking for a career, and also better positioning our state in recruitment efforts with our neighbors. It has tax cuts that will benefit people who are poor and middle class, providing them with additional dollars that won’t go into savings, but will be spent on goods and services, further enhancing a robust state economy. The budget also adds $474 million to North Carolina’s rainy fund to push it to a record $1.6 billion, which isn’t sexy but provides comfort for the next time a major hurricane hits North Carolina, which is always just a matter of time.
Although Republicans control both chambers of the General Assembly and the Governor’s Mansion, meaning they could have done pretty much anything that they wanted, the budget won bipartisan support and the nitpicking by Democrats was minimal. All five Democratic legislators who represent any of Robeson County voted in favor of the plan.
There were two items in the budget concerning Robeson County that we particularly like.
The first, which we have written about before in this space, caps tuition at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Western Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University at $500 a semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out of state, which will bring a four-year degree within easier reach for many local students. While we know there was a lot of local concern from those who love UNCP and cherish its heritage, Chancellor Robin Cummings trusts the state to make up lost revenue, and believes it will bring stronger students to UNCP who in the past might have not looked at the Pembroke campus.
Look for UNCP to continue to grow.
The other item was $165,000 of state money that was needed to construct 100 more horse stalls at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center, giving it the ability to play host to multi-day horse shows.
It’s been a difficult two-decade run for the events center, which more than once has been on life support. The biggest problem was it was constructed backward, with the meeting center and the farmers market being built first and plans for the horse pavilion kicked down the road.
The farmers market was never embraced locally, and closed in 2012, the same year that the pavilion opened. The health of the complex has slowly improved since.
The addition of 100 more stalls will allow for longer and larger horse shows. People who own horses and travel to show them tend to have extra dollars to spend, and now some of that money will be spent locally.
As Sue Gray, executive director of the N.C. Horse Council, said: “Now more than one-day shows will be able to be held at the arena. With each horse that is in a show there will be two to four people accompanying it. These people stay in the local hotels, eat at the restaurants and buy gas at local stations.”
The horse stall project has been, well, stalled for several years. The money is there now to get it done, and the benefits will be enjoyed by many more than horse enthusiasts.