It’s not easy to find much wrong with the North Carolina economy these days, especially if you happen to be state Budget Director Drew Heath.
“This economy is firing on all cylinders,” Heath said. “We really don’t see any downside or anticipate any downside in the future.”
The budget director spoke after Gov. Pat McCrory on July 14 signed the $22.3 billion budget, which includes a variety of tax cuts and a state pay raise.
“Every budget has its challenge,” Heath explained. “We need to keep spending at a reasonable level and be responsible.”
North Carolina also has a hefty surplus of $425 million, which Heath said puts the state’s rainy-day reserve fund at a record level of around $1.6 billion.
Local leaders in the Wilmington area remain bullish on the budget and the economy.
“This year’s budget is part of a continuing effort to make North Carolina more business friendly by decreasing the tax burden,” said Mitch Lamm, chairman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.
“The legislature has been focused on continued tax cuts while at the same time enhancing teacher pay and investing in higher education, which is of utmost importance for our schools to retain quality teachers, and for growing UNCW,” Lamm added. “Additionally, the budget preserves important programs such as historic preservation tax credits and the film grant program, which are important to our regional economy.”
“Whether it is the budget or regulatory reform or beach nourishment or transportation investments or the port, we have a tremendous amount of regional support from our legislative delegation,” Lamm said.
The film industry in the region maintained its $30 million in grant funding as expected based on the budget passed last year.
“Last year, the $30 million was utilized by approximately six different productions across North Carolina. We are optimistic that we will once again attract the attention of our interested clients that want to do business in North Carolina,” said Johnny Griffin of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.
“We are continually working with our clients to keep them updated on the level of funding in the grant, as well as the other factors which make our region a great location for filming – world-class facilities, crew, locations, weather and quality of life.”
Other highlights of the new budget include:
• Public school teachers will receive average 4.7 percent raises, bringing average teacher pay to more than $50,000 next school year.
• Rank-and-file state employees will get 1.5 percent raises and bonuses equal to 0.5 percent of their income.
• UNC system in-state tuition freezes for incoming freshmen this fall for the next eight or 10 semesters, depending on the program.
• Elizabeth City State University, Western Carolina University and University of North Carolina at Pembroke will see fall 2018 tuition rates lower, at $500 per semester for in-state students.
• And $20 million goes to a new task force to address mental health and drug addiction issues.
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Wilmington Downtown Inc. President Ed Wolverton of the new state budget. “There is some funding for the film industry, which of course helps downtown small businesses. We appreciate that. We would have liked to see it increase, but it is part of a two-year deal.”
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