Patrick Gannon: 5 things about NC budget you may not have heard

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RALEIGH — By now, you’ve probably heard that the $21 billion state budget for 2014-15 gives teachers raises and doesn’t cut thousands of people off of Medicaid, as once proposed. But the budget, signed last week by Gov. Pat McCrory, includes hundreds of pages of state law changes, some involving spending and some not. Here are several changes made under the budget that you might not have heard about.

1) The budget gives most state employees raises, but not General Assembly members. (How unselfish of them). By the way, McCrory gets a $1,000 boost under the budget and now makes $142,265 a year. The lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, superintendent of public instruction and the commissioners of agriculture, labor and insurance get $1,000 extra, too. All of their salaries are now $125,676.

2) The budget doesn’t raise taxes, but that doesn’t mean no one will pay more to the government. Fees for commercial fishermen, community college students, businesses that sell alcohol, companies that store hazardous waste and others are increased under the spending plan.

Tuition for the state’s community colleges increases by 50 cents per credit hour, to $72 a semester for state residents and $264 for nonresidents. The increase for residents amounts to a maximum of $32 a year. This year’s modest bump comes on the heels of larger hikes in recent years. Five years ago, in 2009-10, tuition cost $50 for in-state students and $241.30 for nonresidents, according to the state community college system.

For Alcoholic Beverage Control permit holders, the budget increases fees for permit renewals to the initial permit fee amounts. The change is expected to raise and additional $9.6 million a year from bars, restaurants and other establishments that sell alcohol.

3) The spending plan includes school safety initiatives, including proposals discussed in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. The budget requires all school districts to provide police with schematic diagrams and access to keys for all school buildings. The budget also mandates that schools keep epinephrine injectors on hand to treat victims of severe allergic reactions and requires principals to distribute anti-bullying policies to staff, students and parents annually.

4) The budget closes two more state prisons, bringing to 16 the number of prisons shuttered since 2009. With the associated loss of employment, prison closures can have negative economic impacts on the areas involved, especially rural ones. But state officials say the facilities are no longer needed because of a declining inmate population, due to a lower crime rate and changes in sentencing practices and correctional policies stemming from the Justice Reinvestment Act. Plus, it saves the state money. Prisons closed by the new budget include the Fountain Correctional Center for Women in Nash County and North Piedmont Correctional Center for Women in Davidson County.

5) If you’re late paying state taxes, the budget helps the N.C. Department of Revenue find you. It increases the cap on taxpayer locator services from $150,000 to $350,000, giving tax collectors more resources to find those who owe the state money. It also allows the Revenue Department to hire two special agents to pursue tax scofflaws. This might be good timing for these changes, given ongoing questions about whether the state will have enough money to cover expenses next year.