House, Senate leaders approve $20.7 billion budget

House and Senate leaders have approved a $20.7 billion budget plan for the 2008 fiscal year. It’s a spending package that includes $2.6 billion for the UNC system and $938 million for community colleges.

UNC’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget was $2.2 billion.

The spending package comes one month into the 2008 fiscal year. Legislators had approved a continuing budget authorization in June after negotiators could not come to an agreement on critical aspects in the budget. Gov. Mike Easley is expected to sign the bill once it arrives at his desk.

UNC received a funding increase of 4 percent from legislators. That takes into account a $101 million increase in expansion items. UNC’s continuation budget was a little more than $2.5 billion.

For community colleges, legislators increased spending by 5 percent ($45 million) from the $892 million in the continuation budget.

Essentially, UNC’s approved budget spending was taken nearly directly from the Senate’s UNC budget, which was trimmed by a mere $1.7 million. Budget negotiators added $64 million to the original House budget.

Changes to Funding Sources

The budget makes changes in the way some programs are to be funded.

One of the biggest changes is the funding source for Gov. Easley’s EARN Scholars program. The program, introduced, during his final State of the State Address, provides two years of free tuition to students from families that make less than 200 percent of the poverty line, or families of four that make less than $41,300 annually.

Originally, House and Senate leaders had approved the plan’s funding to come from the Escheats Fund, which consists of unclaimed property in the state. However, budget negotiators opted instead to fund the program through the General Fund.

Money was made available for that change because negotiators made the decision to fund need-based financial aid through the Escheats Fund rather than the General Fund, which allowed legislators to have more money to spend. According to the budget, $35.6 million will come from the fund to provide for need-based grants.

New programs

As with any budget negotiation, some programs were inserted into the budget during negotiations. This is true of the UNC budget as well.

Negotiators provided $150,000 million in non-recurring funding (or one-time funds) to UNC-Chapel Hill’s North Carolina Collection to preserve prints and negatives donated by Hugh Morton. Morton, who died last year, was a famed photographer who was known for his advocacy and development of Grandfather Mountain.

Also in the budget is the creation of the John B. McLendon Leadership Awards, named for a Hall of Fame basketball coach who once guided teams at North Carolina Central University. The program will fund scholarships for a male athlete and female athlete at the state’s historically black colleges and universities. Bennett College, however, would receive funding for two female scholarships. State leaders set aside $500,000 in non-recurring funds for this program.

Construction projects

Negotiators approved more than $850 million in construction projects, of which $610 million will fund UNC projects. Of the $610 million for UNC construction programs, $481 million will be funded through certificates of participation, which do not need voter approval. The remainder will be paid through the general fund.

Among the projects approved is $25 million for construction of the ECU School of Dentistry. The appropriation will fund planning, land acquisition, and early construction costs. Negotiators also agreed to an additional $25 million for the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry for expansion of its facilities. Both projects will be funded through the general fund.

Negotiators also approved $119 million for a genomics building at UNC-Chapel Hill through a certificate of participation.