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State budget includes millions for WNC, does not include new casinos

North Carolina Legislature
North Carolina Legislature

North Carolina’s state budget went into effect earlier this month. The measure was hard fought between chambers and between parties.

Chris Cooper: So we're supposed to get a new budget, the idea, is that we get a new budget by July one, right? That's the beginning of the new fiscal year. The reality of course was that we did not get a budget until into October. Ultimately, the governor still said he wouldn't get a sign it but he wasn't going to stop it either and so the roadblocks were two things really, I mean one was casinos the idea that there would be casinos put into four counties and parts of North Carolina drew the ire of a lot of the more conservative Wing, the freedom caucus Wing, if you will, of the Republican Party. So it had Republican leadership versus some of the Republican rank and file then of course the Democrats not wanted to go along with any of those Republicans.

And at the same time, you had some animosity between Chambers. So, we're certainly used to Democrats and Republicans not getting along. This also was the House not really getting along with the Senate. So, you put all that together, and we did not end up with the budget again until October.

Lilly Knoepp: So, when you talk about casinos at the state level, here in Western North Carolina, this would have had a big impact over 3,000 people, by my count, are employed by the casinos in the region and having more casinos across the state would have an impact here. How do you talk about that in Western North Carolina?

Chris Cooper: I mean, I think that's one of the many things it was a play here. We do have a casino in North Carolina. Of course, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians have one, and have had one for a while. This would have added four across the state right now if you want to gamble in the state of North Carolina, you probably are going to come out here to the mountains and this would not have been so.

Lilly Knoepp: The state budget it is over 600 Pages. What stands out to you as the biggest things that happened this year?

Chris Cooper: Yeah, I mean so we'll start with the things that you might expect to see in a budget right the fiscal related things. We have a biennial budget here in North Carolina. So, 7% raises over the course of two years for state employees. We saw some teacher raises. We also saw some specialized projects in certain areas of the state. In this budget in Western North Carolina. We saw some projects in Bryson City, certainly Canton got some relief as well. So we saw a lot of these more normal budgetary expenditures, but also this budget came with some things that you might not associate with the budget really policy bills that were buried in this 600 and some odd pages. One of them says that members the general assembly do not have to make public all sorts of public records including those around redistricting. Of course, they are moving into the redistricting season last cycle of redistricting. There was a lot of press a lot of attention over one legislator having what they called concept maps and making those concept maps public this would say they don't have to acknowledge the existence of a concept maps, nor do they have to make them public at all.

At the same time there was another bill which would have created and funded more of this government operations, Gov Ops unit, which would allow the general assembly in the state government to do more have more ability to go into public and contract employees’ offices and conductive investigations against them. So, makes it harder essentially to investigate state legislators easier in some ways to investigate other state employees.

Lilly Knoepp: This is a 30-billion-dollar budget. Two billion dollars of this across the state is going to water and sewer infrastructure. You know, this is something that we talked about a lot here in Western North Carolina. Most of the towns in the region have been working to update water and sewer and there were some big-ticket items to help some of the local towns like Andrews and Murphy be able to move forward with that.

How do you talk about how important infrastructure was in the budget this year?

Chris Cooper: I think infrastructure was incredibly important particularly for the rural parts of our state and we have a whole lot of those in North Carolina has the second most rural voters of any state in the entire country. And so, this is legislators putting some money in some of those in urban areas but a lot was in the rural areas like those here in Western North Carolina. These are not probably the most exciting expenditures of state government could have but they are some of the most important if the state government is not paying for these infrastructure kinds of projects. It's hard to imagine who will particularly in smaller towns and smaller counties that just don't have the finances to do it themselves.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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