Gov. Roy Cooper unveiled his proposed state budget Wednesday at the Durham Technical College. His recommended spending increase is 5.1 percent – $1.1 billion more than the current budget.
Cooper said, “I’m proposing a fiscally responsible budget without raising taxes or fees, without cutting services or dipping into special funds.”
The General Assembly will be officially presented with the budget on Thursday, but Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement, “If the news reports are true, Gov. Cooper is clearly growing nostalgic for the Easley-Perdue days of runaway spending –and his reckless $1 billion spending spree would surely return us to the days of high taxes and multi-billion dollar deficits.”
“We believe a more prudent approach is investing generously in public education and other priorities while still saving for a rainy day and returning hard-earned tax dollars to our taxpayers,” he said. “The governor’s proposal is a step backward from this successful approach that has led to a booming North Carolina economy and helped generate close to 500,000 new jobs.”
As previously announced, Cooper’s budget proposes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers – an additional $271 million each of the next two years. Cooper’s plan would also give teachers a direct annual stipend of $150 to help offset what some teachers are spending out-of-pocket on classroom supplies.
There is also an expenditure of $30 million of lottery funds for more classroom support staff, new textbooks and digital learning materials. It also includes $15 million for low-performing schools.
The budget also provides raises of 2 percent or $800 for all state employees who are not on the teacher pay schedule, along with a one-time $500 bonus. Also, there is proposed a one-time bonus of 1.5% for retirees as oppose to a cost-of-living adjustment.
Cooper said, “We are catching up with investments in education from pre-K to community colleges and higher ed.”
His budget phases out the Opportunity Scholarships program. Cooper said, “It’s about priorities. I believe we should be investing in public schools.”
There is $20 million for raises for principals and assistant principals, as well as money for expanding the NC Pre-K program and $15 million for Smart Start.
Also included is a scholarship program for community colleges. According to a release from Cooper’s office outlining his budget, the scholarships would be called NC GROW (Getting Ready for Opportunities in the Workforce) Scholarships.
Starting in 2018, these scholarships would cover tuition and fees for recent high school graduates to attend a North Carolina community college. In addition, the budget invests $18 million in workforce training for the jobs of tomorrow, with up to $1,000 in financial assistance available per student to pursue non-credit, short-term workforce credentials.
A large part of the budget Cooper proposes is in spending $1.4 billion to expand Medicaid to cover an additional 624,000 people. It assumes that the Federal government will cover the rest of the cost by spending $4.4 billion.
The proposed budget also restores the state’s child and dependent care tax credit, as well as creates a film tax credit.
Also proposed is $12 million to combat the opioid crisis, along with $2 million for local law enforcement efforts to fight opioid abuse.
The budget includes $7 million for hiring 56 new probation officers. It also provides $10 million to help people getting out of prison transition back to society.
Other areas of the budget include:
- $6.8 million per year to allow law enforcement officers to retire after 25 years, as opposed to 30 years.
- $6M for cancer research.
- $300 million to the rainy day fund.
- $350 million in new debt for university and state government building projects. Cooper said this is a good time for the state to take on new debt because interest rates are low.
All in all, it is a budget that increases spending to the tune of approximately twice what this conservative General Assembly typically targets. The budget will be presented to the legislature and then Senate will proceed first in coming up with a legislative budget proposal.
Then the House will present its spending plan and the two chambers will hammer out a final budget to present to Cooper. It is very likely that, with the possible exception of teacher pay, the budget sent to Cooper will look very little like the budget he sent to them.
In fact, the Senate Republicans have already posted their reaction to Cooper’s budget on Twitter:
— NCSenate Republicans (@MyNCSenate) March 1, 2017
Cooper has opened the budget debate and the next few weeks will be filled with more back and forth between the legislature and the governor. Even the House and the Senate will spar with one another over how much to spend and on what. Stay tuned.