Senate releases $20 billion budget plan

The University of North Carolina’s ambitious construction plans got a boost from the Senate Democrats when they released their $20 billion spending plan on Tuesday.

Senate leaders are proposing $1.2 billion in bond funding through certificates of participation – $1 billion of which would go for projects within the UNC system. Certificate of participations are bond packages in which the state finances new construction projects, backed by buildings and land. These do not need voter approval.

Included in the $1 billion is full funding for the construction of the East Carolina University dental school, as well as improvements to the UNC-Chapel Hill dental school. ECU would be authorized to spend $87 million on construction of the school, while UNC-Chapel Hill would receive $96 million. House leaders had only approved planning funding for ECU in their budget.

Aside from the bonds, the differences between the Senate proposal and the House budget are less dramatic. UNC would receive $2.63 billion, roughly $7 million more than the $2.56 billion approved in the House’s spending plan earlier this month. Community colleges would receive $919 million, about $7 million less than the amount the House leaders had recommended.

House members will vote today on whether or not to accept the Senate budget plan. House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, is attempting to get nine Democrats to join Republicans in voting for the Senate budget. That is because it removes sunsets two 2001 temporary tax increases that remained in the House plan.

The biggest differences between the House and Senate budgets came in the capital budget. House leaders paid for several UNC capital projects through general fund appropriations; Senate leaders, however, moved nearly all university projects into bond programs. The only capital project to be funded through general funds in the Senate budget was a $9 million request to install fire sprinklers in dorms across the system.

Other bond components include funds for a genomics science building at UNC-Chapel Hill ($119 million), construction of the James B. Hunt Library at N.C. State ($114 million), and an energy production infrastructure center at UNC-Charlotte ($76 million).

Senate leaders kept many of the recommendations from the President’s Advisory Committee on Efficiency (PACE), but did away with an $18 million reduction in middle-management positions. The Senate budget also added $10 million in future PACE cuts. Those cuts were not spelled out in the budget.

Funds that would allow part-time private college students to receive legislative tuition grants were eliminated from the Senate budget. House leaders had included the money, requested by the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, to help part-time students who take at least six hours’ of courses. However, the House budget did not include enough money to cover the full cost of the program, funding the request at $1.5 million; it still needed another $2 million to fully fund the initiative.

Senate leaders also provided funds for many programs that were requested by the UNC system but were not funded by House leaders.

One example was a request from the UNC Board of Governors for a competitiveness fund. The $8 million request would “support strategic investments in emerging areas of importance to the economic competitiveness of the state,” according to the budget document.

Senate leaders would also provide funds for a pilot “academic summer bridge” program costing $1.2 million. The program would target first-generation students at Elizabeth City, Fayetteville State, NC A&T, North Carolina Central, UNC-Pembroke, Western Carolina, and Winston-Salem State. Students would attend a four-to-five week session in the summer prior to their first semester.

The community college budget keeps in place the 6.3 percent tuition increase that originated in the House’s budget. That increase would raise $7.5 million for the community college system and would increase tuition from $39.50 per credit hour for in-state, full-time students to $42. Full-year tuition for in-state, full-time students would now be $1,344.