The N.C. General Assembly has approved a $29.8 billion state budget for fiscal year 2023-2024 that expands Medicare coverage to 600,000 low-income North Carolinians and makes vouchers for private school tuition available to all K-12 students.

Gov. Roy Cooper declined to sign the 2023 Appropriations Act and allowed it to become law without his signature.

“Health insurance for 600,000 more North Carolinians that brings more mental health and substance use disorder treatment, help for desperate rural hospitals and billions of dollars into our economy is a life-saving, monumental decision for our state,” Cooper said in a statement.

“Make no mistake, overall this is a bad budget that seriously shortchanges our schools, prioritizes power grabs, keeps shady backroom deals secret and blatantly violates the constitution, and many of its provisions will face legal action,” he added.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore said he was disappointed that Cooper did not sign the budget, but said he was grateful for the bipartisan support the bill received.

“Thanks to the surplus achieved as a result of the last several years of fiscal responsibility by the Republican-led General Assembly, the 2023 Appropriations Act not only invests in the most pressing needs of North Carolinians, but includes several policy wins for our state,” Moore said in a news release Friday.

“Some of these policies include fighting the onerous Green New Deal, enacting universal school choice, implementing election security, providing income tax relief, banning COVID-19 mandates, and more,” he added. “I am proud of the budget that has passed both chambers today and look forward to the 2023 Appropriations Act becoming law so that North Carolina families can benefit from these conservative policy wins as soon as possible.”

Republicans touted the legislation’s incremental tax reductions, which will whittle the tax rate from 4.75 percent to 3.99 percent in 2026.

The budget also includes $2 billion for water and wastewater projects and $620 million for mental health programs.

Average teacher salaries will increase by at least 7 percent over two years, and state employees will get a 4 percent raise in 2023 along with a 3 percent boost in 2024.

Under the Opportunity Scholarship program, all K-12 students will be eligible for private school tuition assistance with low -income students receiving the largest grants.

Iredell-Statesville Schools and Mooresville Graded School District leaders have opposed expansion of the voucher program. Critics of vouchers argue that private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools, often do not provide free lunches and transportation, and can decline admission to students based on their religious beliefs.

Reps. Grey Mills, Jeff McNeely and Mitchell Setzer, who represent Iredell County in the N.C. House, all supported the budget. Sen. Vickie Sawyer, who represents Iredell County in the N.C. Senate, also voted for the legislation.

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