Gov. Cooper calls budget ‘irresponsible,’ promises veto


Dan Way - Carolina Journal



RALEIGH — At a Monday news conference, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced he would veto the state budget.

“This budget shortchanges our state at a time it doesn’t need it,” Cooper said, surrounded by teachers at the Executive Mansion.

The governor continued calling the $23 billion General Fund budget for the next fiscal year “irresponsible,” highlighting its provisions dealing with teacher compensation and tax cuts.

The General Assembly passed the budget by veto-proof margins: 39-11 in the Senate and 77-38 in the House. Cooper conceded that he doesn’t have the votes to prevail unless “fair-minded Republicans” and a few Democrats who backed the budget reconsidered their votes.

The fiscal year ends at midnight June 30. The General Assembly could hold votes to override the veto as soon as they receive the rejected document from the governor.

“[The budget] doesn’t even come close to what I’ve proposed for teacher pay,” he said. Cooper called for a proposal that would eventually raise teacher compensation to the national average.

Terry Stoops, vice president for research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said salaries already are close to that mark. In a recent blog post, Stoops said his initial calculations show “North Carolina’s average teacher salary, when adjusted for cost of living, ranks 31st in the nation.”

Cooper said the budget does not include money to increase the number of school nurses, counselors, teacher assistants, broadband Internet access for all schools, or for classroom supplies. It also eliminates retiree health care benefits for teachers and other state employees hired after 2021.

Cooper called for a phase-out of the Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools of their choice, claiming they have no accountability. The General Assembly has authorized funding for the next decade and increased the number of scholarships.

The governor characterized the program as part of “a steady erosion” of public education under Republican leadership, he said.

He jabbed Republicans repeatedly along class lines, saying their tax cuts benefit the wealthy and corporations.

He rebutted the contention that Republican policies have improved the economic standing of the state. People who can invest in stocks are doing fine, he said, but middle-class North Carolinians are still struggling.

Cooper said he would be willing to sign the budget if Republicans limit their tax cuts to people who make $150,000 or less per year, and increase education spending in the areas he cited above.

“The changes could be made and voted on in minutes,” he said.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, responded swiftly.

“By rejecting our fourth consecutive teacher pay raise — this time totaling 10 percent on average — a major middle-class tax cut, and much-needed Hurricane Matthew relief, Gov. Cooper has broken some of his biggest promises to the voters, and they will hold him accountable. We will, too, by quickly overriding his veto.”

Dan Way

Carolina Journal

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