RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina House Republicans unveiled a two-year state government spending proposal Wednesday that would offer sizeable raises for teachers compared to recent years while earmarking billions of dollars for infrastructure and health care.
The unveiling of the House budget plan comes two weeks after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper offered his own proposal, which GOP leaders have already dismissed as spending too much. Cooper’s plan seeks much higher pay raises for teachers.
The House plan would spend almost $29.8 billion in the fiscal year starting July 1, largely in keeping with the spending limit agreed to recently by House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger. That is over $3 billion less than what Cooper wanted to spend next year. The House would spend $30.9 billion for the year starting July 2024.
Moore and other House budget leaders highlighted at a news conference both new or expanded spending toward salaries, services, tax reductions and capital expenditures. Moore said the threat of a recession, which he blamed on poor policy choices from Washington, warrants a conservative approach that he believes has helped make North Carolina a fiscal model nationally.
“We recognize that we are facing some uncertain headwinds,” Moore told reporters. “We would be irresponsible to spend every bit of money and not prepare for the future given these uncertain times.”
House Republicans say their plan proposes average raises of just over 10% for public school teachers over the next two years, compared to 18% average raises by Cooper.
For rank-and-file state employees, the House proposal offers raises of more than 7.5% through mid-2025, while Cooper’s requested raises of over 8%. The House plan doesn’t include $1,000 or $1,500 bonuses for teacher and state employees that Cooper also proposed.
The House plan would provide more funds for pay in hard-to-fill staffing positions. Another $26 million would help recruit and retain community college faculty.
House Republicans want to accelerate slightly individual income tax rate cuts that became law in 2021 and incrementally will bring the rate to 3.99% in 2027. They also want higher standard deductions for tax filers and deductions for those with children. The business franchise tax rate also would fall incrementally in the measure, reaching a one-third reduction by 2029.
Rep. Dean Arp, a Union County Republican and one of the chief budget writers, said the House plan includes $3.6 billion on infrastructure investments over the next two years, along with $2 billion for local and regional water and sewer system projects.
For public education, the House GOP plan would limit fourth grade class sizes to 24 students to help with a program to improve students’ math proficiency. The budget would include additional funds to hire teaching assistants to help with the program.
The House budget committees will debate the measure and consider amendments Thursday. House floor votes are expected next week. Senate Republicans will then advance their own spending plan in the coming weeks.
Leaders from both chambers will then negotiate a final budget bill to vote on and present to Cooper, probably in June.
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Cooper was already behind the eight ball on persuading lawmakers to embrace his spending plan. Republicans earned enough electoral gains in the fall so that the GOP is only one House seat away from holding veto-proof control in both chambers.
And the Medicaid expansion legislation that Cooper signed into law earlier this week requires passage of a state budget law for next year before coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income adults can be carried out. That means Cooper’s leverage on the budget is likely to wane as Republicans can fill it up with favored provisions.
The budget proposal does place in reserve over $1.6 billion in extra cash that North Carolina will receive from Washington once expansion is enacted.
Much of that money would be used for mental health services, the details of which be proposed in separate legislation soon, said Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican and another chief budget writer.
A policy provision contained in the House’s budget draft would turn the State Bureau of Investigation into a standalone department that would no longer be housed in the Department of Public Safety — a Cabinet agency of the governor.
The proposal comes a day after current the bureau’s director, Bob Schurmeier, spoke to House members publicly, alleging interference by Cooper’s office in hiring decisions and urging laws to make the bureau more independent than is already provided in state law.
A Cooper spokesperson said the governor’s office has had concerns about Schurmeier’s leadership and practices within the agency. Schurmeier’s current term as director expires at the end of June.
NORTH CHESTERFIELD, Va. — Family, friends and other mourners gathered Wednesday at a Virginia church to remember Irvo Otieno at a funeral service, celebrating his life and calling for mental health care and policing reforms after the 28-year-old Black man’s death earlier this month while in custody at a state psychiatric hospital.
“He had an illness. He should have been doctored to, not treated with brutality,” said civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy.
Other speakers recalled Otieno as an empathetic, energetic and well-respected friend, teammate and musical artist during the service at First Baptist Church of South Richmond, as they vowed to seek justice for his death.
Otieno, whose family said he had long struggled with mental illness, died March 6 after he was pinned to the floor by sheriff’s deputies and others while being admitted to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County. Seven deputies and three hospital workers have been charged with second-degree murder in his death, and an investigation is ongoing.
Video released earlier this month shows sheriff’s deputies and hospital employees restraining a handcuffed and shackled Otieno for about 20 minutes after he was forcibly led into a hospital room. For much of that time, Otieno was prone on the floor, pinned by a group so large it blocked the camera’s view of him at times.
Personnel who realized he appeared limp and lifeless eventually began resuscitation efforts, the video showed. Otieno’s family and their attorneys have said he posed no danger and was simply trying to breathe.
“You know he couldn’t fight back — he was handcuffed and shackled. And if we sound angry, it’s because we are,” Sharpton said.
Dinwiddie Commonwealth’s Attorney Ann Cabell Baskervill has said Otieno was smothered to death. An autopsy is pending.
Otieno, who emigrated from Kenya as a young child, spent most of his youth in suburban Richmond. He was a “gregarious baby, a lively toddler, an energetic child, a fun-loving athletic teen and an artistic young man,” his funeral program said. He was also a high-achieving high school athlete who earned an athletic scholarship to attend college.
He was pursuing a goal of building a music career, streaming his music under the moniker “Young Vo” while working toward starting his own record label, his family has said.
Wednesday’s service was attended by hundreds of mourners that included friends, family, clergy members and representatives from the office of Gov. Glenn Youngkin. An interment was scheduled immediately following the service.
Otieno’s family and their attorneys have said Otieno was experiencing mental distress at the time of his initial encounter with law enforcement earlier this month, days before he was taken to the state hospital. He was first taken into police custody March 3, when he was transported to a local hospital for mental health treatment under an emergency custody order.
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Police have said that while at the local hospital, he “became physically assaultive toward officers,” at which point they arrested him and took him to a local jail, something Otieno’s family says should never have happened given that he was in need of treatment. On the afternoon of March 6, he was transferred to the state hospital, which has a unit that provides care for people admitted from jails or by court-order.
Attorneys for the defendants charged in his death have said their clients were trying to restrain Otieno. During bond hearings and in statements, several defense attorneys have sought to distinguish their clients from the mass of bodies involved in pinning Otieno to the floor. All defendants have been granted bond and have pre-trial hearings in April or May.
Attorneys for Otieno’s family have pushed back at those characterizations and did so again Wednesday.
“They engage in the intellectual justification of discrimination,” said attorney Ben Crump, who has been called ” Black America’s attorney general ” for his work on civil rights cases.
Crump, Sharpton and another family attorney, Mark Krudys, called for more robust mental health care services and more training for law enforcement dealing with mental health-related situations. They also said Virginia should consider creating mental health-specific courts under a system like California’s.
Caroline Ouko, Otieno’s mother, said she never could have imagined what would unfold after her son was first taken to the local hospital for care.
“We will miss you dearly. But rest assured, as you fly in heaven with your God, you are not here physically with us. But we who remain, your family, your friends and my team beside me, we will get to the bottom of what happened to you,” she said.
HAMPTON — Gov. Glenn Youngkin declined this week to sign a bill making wholesale changes to the Virginia Parole Board — seeking to add a requirement that prosecutors be notified in advance about an inmate’s potential release.
Youngkin didn’t have a problem with the legislation’s main thrust — scrapping the board’s long-standing exemption under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and requiring the five-member board to make its parole decisions in public.
But rather than signing the measure into law by Monday night’s deadline, Youngkin asked for a tweak that would require the board to ask prosecutors for their thoughts early in the process.
Youngkin’s proposal said that as part of an investigation into an inmate’s release, the top prosecutor “in each jurisdiction in which an offense occurred” must be notified in advance.
That prosecutor “may submit input to the Board regarding the impact the release of the inmate will have on the jurisdiction.” Whatever the prosecutor submits must remain in the inmate’s parole board file for any future board hearings.
Youngkin’s proposal likewise called for the local victim/witness advocate’s office — typically part of the prosecutor’s office but sometimes part of sheriff’s offices — be given a chance to weigh in.
The General Assembly will consider Youngkin’s recommendations — on this bill and many others — at a special session April 12.
Under existing state law, inmates can’t be freed unless a thorough investigation has been made into that prisoner’s history and conduct — and whether his release is compatible “with the interests of society.”
[ Once shrouded in secrecy, Virginia Parole Board coming out of the shadows ]
The law requires that crime victims are notified before the parole board votes, with the victims and families allowed to submit evidence about the impact that the release of the prisoner will have on them.
“The Board shall endeavor diligently to contact the victim prior to making any decision to release any inmate on discretionary parole,” current law says.
But the law is less stringent for keeping prosecutors informed.
Prosecutors must be notified in advance of the board’s decisions only “if additional victim research is necessary” — in other words, if the board needs help finding a victim.
After the board votes to free a prisoner, it must notify local prosecutors of that decision at least 21 business days prior to such inmate’s release. (The Department of Corrections must separately provide notice to police and sheriff’s offices).
The recent Parole Board legislation — including the push to force the agency to operate in public after years of secrecy — comes on the heels of a scandal stemming from the release of more than 130 inmates at the start of the pandemic in March and April of 2020.
The board under former Chairwoman Adrianne L. Bennett was criticized for releasing so many violent criminals — including a man sentenced to life in the 1979 killing of a popular Richmond police officer.
But the board was further criticized for numerous missteps along the way, including failing to keep many victims’ families properly informed of releases in advance, and often not properly telling prosecutors about the releases after the votes.
Following “the previous administration’s parole board scandals,” the governor “has been committed to implementing … changes that provide increased information to victims and families and increase transparency,” Macaulay Porter, Youngkin’s press spokeswoman, said in a text message Wednesday.
Youngkin, she said, wants to ensure that future parole boards will uphold the same standards as recommended by the current parole board and the State Office of Inspector General.
Current Parole Board Chairman Chadwick Dotson said in a January report to Youngkin that the board is now keeping victims notified early in cases in which parole appears even a remote possibility.
“This is also the moment when we reach out to Commonwealth’s Attorneys, seeking their input,” the report said. “Based on feedback we are receiving, (prosecutors) and Victim-Witness Coordinators feel like they’re ‘in the loop’ on (Parole Board) decisions.”
Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green said he’s getting far more notices from the Parole Board now.
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“We’re seeing pretty dramatic change in the past couple of years,” Green said. “In the past, we weren’t consistently getting notice that individuals were getting ready to be paroled. I very rarely ever saw anything from the Parole Board saying ‘Hey, we are considering this individual for parole, would you like to provide any comment?’”
“If we got a notification, it would be after the decision had been made, and the decision really couldn’t be changed.”
He said prosecutors around the state complained to Dotson, and he promised to address the issue.
“I would say that he has addressed it,” Green said. “Over the last couple of years, we have seen a much stronger effort in making sure that the prosecutors are given an opportunity to provide input.”
Putting that policy change into law, Green said, “is a good idea.”
Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, who sponsored the Parole Board legislation in the Senate, couldn’t be reached for comment on Youngkin’s recommendation.
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, firstname.lastname@example.org