House and Senate budget writers continue to focus on ways to meet the state's growing needs while facing an expected $1.2 to $1.5 billion budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
Our state expenses continue to grow due to the more than 100,000 new people who move to North Carolina each year, which will increase the student population, health care costs, improvements and new construction on roads and highways, and other vital state programs. For example, our K-12 schools, universities, and community colleges expect an increase in enrollment of more than 35,000 new students next year at an additional cost of more than $200 million. The number of low-income citizens also increases each year. Thus Medicaid, which provides health care for qualified citizens, could need an additional $210 million next year.
Budget-writers for education laid out some painful reductions in a draft-spending proposal for the public schools, universities, and community colleges. The draft assumes no new taxes or extending ones that are about to expire. The education reductions proposed in committee would require UNC system campuses to eliminate 348 filled positions and another 407 vacancies as part of $30.5 million in reductions. In the public schools, legislators recommended nearly $94 million in reductions in part by cutting spending for teacher assistants for the third grade and by hiring a seventh-grade teacher for every 22 students instead of the current 21. At the community colleges, tuition would rise by 4 percent.
Members of the Appropriations Committees are currently looking for efficiencies, but many difficult choices lie ahead. I remain committed to adequately funding education, health and human services, transportation, public safety, and efforts to further strengthen our economy and create jobs.