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NC House looks to add engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill, as Berger blasts budget bill

North Carolina legislative building in Raleigh
Erin Keever
/
WUNC
North Carolina legislative building in Raleigh

State House leaders want to create a new College of Applied Science and Technology at UNC-Chapel Hill. The engineering program is included in the new budget bill heading to a floor vote Wednesday.

House Republicans' budget proposal includes additional raises for teachers and state employees, and it provides more funding for private school vouchers and child care centers.

But it would also spend $8 million to start the new program at UNC. House Speaker Tim Moore said he doesn't think it will compete with N.C. State's engineering school.

“STEM is the fastest growing profession and is where we have been unable to meet the job needs,” Moore said. “So we believe that UNC-Chapel Hill can be a key part of that. It would be a different type of engineering, I don't see it competing with N.C. State, like in the civil engineering and those sorts of things. The other thing that's very important is it would leverage additional federal research dollars to the state of North Carolina.”

The budget provision that creates the College of Applied Science and Technology also calls for the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to “review other existing academic programs … and consider consolidating or eliminating programs that have a low return on investment or low enrollment.”

The House budget also includes millions to clean up contamination issues at Poe Hall on N.C. State's campus.

The House's plan for spending a billion-dollar revenue surplus was sharply criticized by Senate leader Phil Berger, who told reporters Tuesday that his chamber wants to spend far less in the fiscal year beginning next month.

Berger said he's opposed to the House's proposal to spend hundreds of millions of dollars from reserve funds. That money would pay for Medicaid needs and infrastructure projects related to the new Toyota battery plant in Randolph County.

"We have agreed to dip into the reserves, but not nearly to the tune that the House wants to, and we've only done that to try to get a deal," he said. "They continue to want to spend way too much money."

Berger said the negotiations between the two chambers aren't making any progress, and he said it's possible that the legislature could end its session without a budget agreement. He's hoping to end the session by the end of the month.

"We feel very comfortable that the state can manage ... over the next six months," he said. "We'll be back in January."

If that happens, state employees and teachers would still get scheduled raises from last year's budget bill. But they wouldn't get the extra raises in the House's proposal. And child care centers wouldn't get money to offset the loss of federal funds, something the House wants and that Berger said he's open to supporting.

Other noteworthy provisions in the House budget bill include:

  • A requirement that prosecutors provide an explanation when they dismiss or offer a plea deal to charges related to “civil disorder,” such as a protest that results in arrests.

    Moore said he didn’t write that provision but likes the idea. “We've heard a lot of frustration from law enforcement when they would go out to public disturbances that often involve violence, and these cases would just seem to be dismissed willy-nilly,” he said.

  • A new designation for the Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill: The “official children’s museum of North Carolina.”
  • An update to the state’s sports betting laws to add bull riding to the list of professional sports eligible to participate. North Carolina is home to one such team: The Carolina Cowboys.
  • End the state’s Textbook Commission and mandate that local school boards set up a “community media advisory committee” to hear complaints about instructional materials in schools.
Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.