RALEIGH — House Democrats hosted a press conference last Thursday to discuss House Bill 1136: NC Working Families Act, which represents House Democrats’ priorities for the Short Session budget.

“Many caucus members had input into this bill,” House Democratic Leader Robert Reives II said. “The people of North Carolina deserve to have us making smart, long-term investments in our state.”

Rep. Rosa Gill spoke about investments in public education.

“As a retired principal and educator, I believe public education is the most important thing we do. Strong public schools give every child an opportunity to learn,” Gill said. “They give every community an opportunity to grow good jobs.”

The NC Working Families Act includes a pay raise of at least 7.5% for teachers, an increase above the 5% already scheduled under last year’s budget. This proposal also includes similar pay raises for principals and assistant principals, and ensures non-certified personnel will receive a pay raise of 5% or an increase to $15 an hour — whichever is higher.

Rep. Carla Cunningham shared the investments in health care in this budget.

“We want to help North Carolinians lead healthier lives and to help them deal with rising medical costs,” Cunningham said.

The proposed budget includes $39 million to reduce the Innovations Waiver wait list by 5,000 slots, meaning individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families will be able to receive long-term care and support in their home, not institutions.

It also includes $19 million for state substance abuse centers, ensuring more resources for people who struggle with substance abuse. Finally, it would provide $10 million in competitive grants to local law enforcement to fund permanent or contract mental health positions.

Rep. John Autry spoke about the need to protect and preserve North Carolina’s environment.

“Clean water, clean energy, making North Carolina more resilient and taking steps forward on climate change are the hallmarks of our budget proposal,” Autry said. “All of these needs are urgent — they cannot wait — and they should not wait when the state has the money available right now.”

The budget proposal includes $1.5 billion in funding to upgrade schools with clean energy technology and $500 million to begin transitioning school bus fleets into electric vehicles — school buses that will be made right here in North Carolina, creating jobs and saving schools money on fuel and energy costs.

Clean water is another top priority, which is why this budget provides $27 million in new funding for the Land and Water Trust Fund to improve water quality, including military buffer restoration, improving stormwater treatment and stream restoration. The budget also provides funding to address emerging compounds and to help the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality better enforce existing clean water laws.

Finally, the budget includes $24 million for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund for state and local parks, and $10 million for bike and pedestrian transportation improvements.

Rep. Brandon Lofton concluded the press conference highlighting the need for investments in the state’s workforce.

“Public workers provide critical services to all of us,” Lofton said, “yet too many state budgets in recent years have done very little to invest in our workforce. With this bill, we propose to double the scheduled pay raise from 2.5% to 5%.”

The pay raises include almost all state employees and state-funded local employees, and includes workers at community colleges and UNC system schools. There is also an additional 2.5% pay raise included for law enforcement officers and state health care professionals.

For retirees on fixed incomes, the budget proposes a recurring 3% cost of living increase. For the past decade, retirees have received very few COLA (Cost of Living Adjustments) increases and our state has been outpaced by South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.

And finally, the budget provides for 12 weeks of paid family leave for state workers so that parents can take time off to spend with their families. This will help us attract and retain good people to work in public service, not to mention it is the right thing to do.

Read the full budget proposal at www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2021/H1136 and watch the video from Thursday’s press conference at bit.ly/3NUjqTu.