By Ben Rappaport
After a nearly three-month delay that included squabbles over Medicaid expansion and casinos, North Carolina lawmakers passed a $30 billion budget Friday.
The spending package includes hundreds of millions for the Border Belt region of Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties, including money for community colleges, police stations, local governments and more.
The budget also allocates $10 million for a new long-term economic development grant program for southeastern North Carolina, known as Golden LEAF. The program aims to increase the number of publicly owned industrial buildings for new businesses and will be available for all four Border Belt counties.
Statewide, the budget includes an average 7% raise for teachers and state employees over the next two years, a 4% cut to the personal income tax rate by 2025 and the expansion of private school vouchers. The 625-page budget bill would also expand Medicaid coverage for more than 600,000 North Carolinians.
It does not include four proposed casinos, one of which would be operated by the Lumbee tribe in southeastern North Carolina.
The budget passed mostly along party lines in the state House and Senate, where Republicans hold supermajorities. Every lawmaker from Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties voted in favor of the budget.
In a statement Friday, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said the spending plan was an “overall bad budget” but he would allow it to pass without his signature, citing an urgent need for Medicaid expansion.
The budget will go into effect Oct. 2 — 10 days after it was passed. Here’s a breakdown of the state funding coming to Border Belt counties:
- More than $14 million for a sewer infrastructure project spanning from Bladenboro to Elizabethtown. The project has been a top priority in the county for decades, and officials say it will be key to future planning efforts.
- $15 million for a mixed-use project in Elizabethtown. The project hopes to include middle-income homes, health care and business offices, a day care center, a hotel and a 5,000-seat amphitheater. The state funding specifies that $5 million of the money must be used for water and sewer upgrades surrounding the site.
- $300,000 for a new law enforcement training center for the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.
- $6.5 million for improvements to the Curtis L. Brown Jr. Field Airport through a combination of capital investment and grant funding from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
- $15.6 million for water and sewer infrastructure projects.
- $1.4 million for Columbus Regional Healthcare System for “opioid remediation programs.” It’s the second largest recipient in the state, behind the UNC System, of opioid settlement funds.
- $11.7 million for Columbus Regional Airport upgrades.
- $12.5 million for Southeastern Community College capital improvements.
- $9 million for Tabor City Industrial Park.
- More than $12 million for Fair Bluff — the largest allotment for any Columbus County town. The money includes $7.3 million for capital projects, which include upgrades to the Carver Community Center, and an additional $5 million for flood resiliency projects through the State Emergency & Disaster Response Reserve (SERDF).
- Check out a complete list of state-funded projects in Columbus County from The News Reporter.
- $20 million to help establish a school of optometry at UNC Pembroke. Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican, said the school has been in the works for years after a study revealed a need for optometry across the state. Currently, there are 12 counties in North Carolina without practicing optometrists.
- $20 million for the Allied Health and Sciences Center at UNC Pembroke.
- $6 million for the Givens Performing Arts Center at UNC Pembroke. The center has not received money for upgrades since 2011.
- $21 million for Robeson Community College to build a health center.
- $10 million for upgrades at the Lumberton Regional Airport.
- $2.5 million for the Lumber Downtown Riverwalk.
- $2.5 million for a municipal building in Maxton.
- $3.25 million for a municipal building in Fairmont.
- $1.1 million to improve the county’s drug treatment court and treat the opioid epidemic in the county through the Breeches Buoy program in conjunction with UNC Health Southeastern.
- $20 million for Laurinburg for water and sewer infrastructure upgrades, including $10 million for wastewater treatment plant renovations.
- $2 million for industrial site development in Scotland County.
- $6.5 million for public safety building infrastructure and equipment upgrades.
- $7 million for the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport.