With the General Assembly set to begin the short session on Monday, discussion will focus on the 2016-17 state budget. We’ve heard the Governor’s priorities and have a good idea of where legislative leaders are headed. Think in excess of $22 billion in state funding, but (sit down, please) when you add in federal funding for state functions, the entire budget will be well over $50 billion.

Yes, wow!

So what can we expect as the budget negotiations get underway next week?

First of all, and pretty significantly, we’ll see a restraint in spending. Unlike the 1990s and 2000s, when we saw huge leaps in spending and growth of government, expect a continuation begun in 2011 of fiscal responsibility and restraint. Senate leader Phil Berger said this week that the Senate hopes to limit spending growth in the budget to 2%. The governor’s proposal released today would increase spending by 2.8%. House Speaker Tim Moore says the House hopes to keep the increase under the combined rate of population growth and inflation. (Some states consider this rate a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, limitation.)

Kudos! Restrained government spending means more money in the pockets of hard-working North Carolina families and businesses to spend the way they want.

But wait. Does less spending mean we can’t fund key functions? Not if you set responsible priorities and commit to fund real core functions, not fluff, not special favors.

Take for example, investments in education. If the goal is to raise student achievement (and now, thankfully, that is the goal in North Carolina), the governor proposes a 5% pay increase for teachers, bringing the average to $50,000 a year. The most experienced teachers would see a $5,000 bonus. And, of course, all teachers will continue to receive about $15,000 in benefits.

Why this investment in education? Because N.C. leaders recognize that a good teacher is what ensures an opportunity for every child. And we need to remain competitive with our neighboring states to attract and keep the best talent in the classroom.

We can rest easy that we won’t see any tax increases. But we may see additional tax cuts with an expansion of the zero-percent tax bracket. (Some folks call this the standard deduction.) When the first dollars of income are exempt from state taxes, every North Carolinian paying income tax gets a break. For low-income earners, the benefit has even greater impact since it represents a greater percentage of their total income.

In the meantime, all indications point to a continuing strong recovery for North Carolina’s economy. Since June 2013, North Carolina has added 252,000 net new jobs. And just today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest U-6 rates, the broadest unemployment measure. North Carolina’s rate fell 4.6 percentage points from June 2013 to March 2016 – the biggest drop in the Southeast. Expect short-session decisions to re-enforce the commitment to a strong economy, getting people back to work, able to take care of themselves and their families without dependence on government.

And less dependence on government means less government is needed. Which means restraint in growth of government, less demand from taxpayers, more opportunity for students and jobs in a recovering economy. And that means more freedom for North Carolinians. And that’s a good start for the 2016 short session.

See you Monday!  Check back here, read Carolina Journal reports, and follow us on Twitter (@beckigray) (@deregulator) (@TeryStoops) for updates and details.