House Minority Whip Raymond Smith Jr. voted last week for the new state budget — but he quickly issued a list of reasons why he believed the budget fell short.
Smith, a Democrat representing House District 21, which comprises portions of Wayne and Sampson counties, said he voted yes “after carefully weighing the good and the bad.”
His reasoning was similar to that of Gov. Roy Cooper, who said he would sign the budget legislation because the good outweighed the bad.
Smith provided a list of “bad things in the state budget”:
• More tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest North Carolinians.
• Elimination of corporate income tax.
• Does not fully fund North Carolina’s schools to comply with every child’s right to a sound, basic education under the Leandro court decision.
• Expansion of school voucher programs diverting more tax dollars away from local public schools.
• The 5% teacher pay raise is not uniform, meaning some teachers will receive very little increase at all.
• Funding for “crisis pregnancy centers” that give women inaccurate information about reproductive health care.
• Law changes that have nothing to do with the budget but instead seek to transfer power from Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, to elected Republican leaders.
• Law changes that have nothing to do with the budget but transfer power to special interests like billboard companies at the expense of local towns and cities.
• Five heavily Democratic counties were left out of the $100 million teacher supplement bonuses: Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Durham and Buncombe.
He also criticized the budget for not including Medicaid expansion, “costing the state billions of dollars in federal funding, thousands of health care jobs, lower health care costs for those with health insurance, and, most importantly, people will die or lead less healthy lives because of lack of health care access.”
Still, Smith found reasons to commend the final budget:
• $1 billion for broadband expansion across North Carolina.
• A 5% pay raise for most state employees.
• An average 5% pay raise for teachers over the biennium.
• Provides a 2% bonus to retirees this fiscal year and 3% next fiscal year.
• Increases the minimum wage for all non-certified personnel and community college staff to $15 per hour.
• A $2,800 bonus to most teachers using American Rescue Plan federal funds.
• Bonuses for all state employees using American Rescue Plan federal funds.
• $100 million for a new state-funded teacher salary supplement for 95 counties to boost teacher pay.
• Increases child tax deduction by $500 per child.
• Increases to $25,500 the tax bracket of people who would not pay state income taxes.
• Major investments in universities, particularly underfunded historically Black colleges and universities.
• Eliminates state tax on military pensions.
“While far from perfect, it is a bipartisan budget that provides critical relief for families and businesses,” Smith said in a news release. “Gov. Cooper and Democrats forced legislative Republicans to increase their investments in teacher and state employee pay, critical infrastructure and aid to help families and businesses emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.
“Our next step must be to continue to fight for Medicaid expansion, education funding and other issues where the state budget fell short.”