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NC House Speaker Tim Moore Visits WCU Steam Plant To Talk State Budget

Courtesy of Western Carolina University
NC House Speaker Tim Moore toured Western Carolina University to vist the campus steam plant that is waiting on funds in the stalled state budget. Chancellor Kelli Brown along with local politicans and administrators took part in the tour.

North Carolina Republican legislative leaders continue to pass ‘mini-budgets’ as negotiations remain stagnant with Democratic governor Roy Cooper over his veto of their full spending plan.  Without a full budget, construction projects across the state are unfinished or un-started. Here’s a look at one such project. 

 Western Carolina University is heated by its steam plant, which was built almost 100 years ago. The university is currently waiting for $16.5 million in state funds to update it. 

“I don't think there's a substitute to actually seeing  some of the projects.”

That’s House Speaker Tim Moore. The Republican visited the plant with university administrators and local politicians last week. 

Moore is touring educational institutes across North Carolina to learn about construction projects that are on hold because of the budget.  Moore is pushing for more funding for these projects.

“This is now saying in addition to all those things in that budget, we're going to spend money on these additional things at roughly another $400 or $500 million on top of what we've already spent,” says Moore. 

Some of the additional money will come from the state’s over $270 million tax surplus, says Moore. He adds that the GOP also still plan to reimburse some of that money directly to  North Carolinians.

 Republicans are hoping by passing pieces known as “mini-budgets’" so that they can move policy forward without a Senate override of the Governor’s veto of their budget.  Democrats hope the Senate will hold the line. 

“Our teachers, our state employees - even our retirees are treated twice a well in the Governor’s budget.” 

That’s Western North Carolina Representative Joe Sam Queen - a Democrat.  He says the additional spending that Moore is talking about is still less than the current amounts promised in Governor Cooper’s budget. 

The headlining reason the governor vetoed the GOP budget was that it didn’t expand Medicaid, but Queen says it isn’t the only issue holding up negotiations. 

“It’s more than one issue but $8 billion dollars is one big enough to hold it up,” says Queen, referring to theamount of NC taxes that go to Medicaid expansion in other states. ”I would hold it up over that one issue myself if I had the chance.”

Western Carolina Chancellor Kelli Brown says Speaker Moore told her that there will be money for the school to provide raises for the first time in nearly 10 years.  University employees have only recieved an increase of .55 percent on average from the state per year during the last decade.

“My understanding was that they were creating a 2% pool that would be there for all faculty and staff,” says Brown. “so that will be very good that we'll be able to take that and move that forward to get it out there to those that deserve increases in salaries.”

While the steam plant waits for funding, winter is on its way to Western Carolina. Brown says she isn’t worried: 

“I feel very confident that we'll be able to get through the winter,” says Brown.   

The House and Senate need to agree on when to adjourn the legislative session. The Senate wants to adjourn at the end of this month.


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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