I returned to Raleigh last month along with many of my colleagues for a special session to reconsider an economic incentives bill that Governor Easley vetoed in August. We reached a compromise that encourages large businesses that pay well to stay in North Carolina
The compromise bill (House Bill 4 for the extra session) requires the companies to be in one of the state’s poorest counties, to invest $200 million at the site within a six-year period, to employ at least 2,000 full-time employees, to pay for all full-time employees’ health insurance and provide wages 40 percent higher than the county average. The incentives would help us keep jobs in these regions, and develop and stimulate the economy.
In a fast growing state, we must make decisions that improve the economic security of our citizens and promote continued prosperity for our children. Since we know that increased educational attainment leads to higher salaries and a thriving economy, this session we focused on preparing our young people for the workforce. To do this, we strengthened our higher education system by including more money for scholarships, adding programs to encourage high school students to attend college and building facilities that will make sure our institutions of higher learning continue to be among the best in the world.
This session my colleagues and I helped create the Education Access Rewards North Carolina, or EARN, Scholars program by setting aside $127 million for it over the next two years. This program will give more North Carolinians access to higher education by providing $4,000 grants each year to the 25,000 community college and University of North Carolina system students with the greatest financial need. All North Carolinians with family incomes of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for the program. We are extremely proud of this program because it makes the dream of attending school, from pre-kindergarten all the way through college, a reality for all of our citizens. Students can now focus on their studies without worrying about finding money to pay for college and will be able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree without any debt.
We increased access to our world-class universities by increasing financial aid in the UNC system by nearly $28 million and setting aside another $8.6 million for state scholarships and grants. We also enhanced our “529” college savings fund by allowing more people to contribute more money each year to the tax-free accounts. (more…)