North Carolina Governor seeks to halt GOP’s favored policies as legislature resumes

The North Carolina General Assembly returned Wednesday for its budget-adjustment Session, receiving a spending plan from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that seeks to halt Republicans’ premier policies in recent years on taxes and school choice — proposals that GOP lawmakers are likely to ignore.

Barred by term limits from running for reelection, Cooper offered his last budget recommendation as Governor before the House and Senate gaveled in their daily floor meetings at midday, the first time most legislators were together in Raleigh since October. That was when the GOP wrapped up a landmark session that restricted abortion, expanded gun rights and Medicaid and eliminated income limits on families who can receive scholarships for K-12 children to attend private schools.

Cooper’s budget would spend $3.6 billion more for the fiscal year starting July 1 than the $30.9 billion already slated for the two-year state budget enacted last fall. A new revenue forecast estimates that an additional $1.4 billion will be at the state government’s disposal through mid-2025 than what was anticipated, giving elected officials funds to address other needs.

The Governor’s budget seeks to halt the upcoming sharp expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Cooper said Republicans were “trying to choke the life out of public schools” through the program and tax policies, “then accuse them of failing while they gasp for breath.”

Cooper also wants to keep the highest wage-earners from benefitting fully from upcoming individual tax cuts by forcing them to keep paying the current 4.5% rate on income above $200,000 for married couples filing jointly, for example. And he wants the corporate income tax to stay at 2.5%, instead of falling to 2.3% next year and reaching zero in 2030.

Republicans “can choose desperately needed investments to educate our children and our workforce, along with tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses,” Cooper said. “Or they can choose tax giveaways for corporations and the wealthy, and keep robbing taxpayer money from public schools to fund private-school vouchers. That’s the billion-dollar choice.”

The proposal now heads to lawmakers who will develop their own budget-adjustment bill, likely first the House and then the Senate. The two chambers then will work out a compromise to present to Cooper.

With Republicans holding narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers, they can override Cooper if they stay united. So there’s less incentive to work with the Governor.

GOP leaders have said they plan no significant changes to their already-enacted tax reduction plans, which they attribute to helping create a strong economy.

Republicans also sound ready to locate more money for Opportunity Scholarships so that more qualified applicants this fall can receive funds that they say are helping more students succeed. A massive increase in applications means the program could need another $300 million, House Speaker Tim Moore has said.

Otherwise, Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said Wednesday that he expected to consider budget adjustments that account for inflation and population growth. Cooper’s proposal is nearly 12% higher than what the second-year of the enacted budget envisions.

Cooper’s plan “is always to spend more, tax more,” Berger told reporters. “I can just tell you that we do not intend to go down that path.”

The tax and vouchers changes would also help retain more revenues to help with K-12, preschool and child care needs, Cooper said. His proposal would raise teacher pay on average by 8.5% with $1,500 bonuses, compared with 2.8% average raises under the current budget. And he wants to spend $650 million in part to help child care centers threatened by closure with an upcoming loss of federal COVID-19 dollars and raise the state’s portion to pay for government-funded pre-K.

Still, Berger and Rep. Jason Saine, a senior budget-writer, said they anticipate that some of Cooper’s spending proposals will get support from Republicans.

“I think there’s always room to meet somewhere in the middle,” said Saine, a Lincoln County Republican. “We’re certainly going to work hard to try to get something that that everyone can agree on and then get out of town.” Lawmakers are looking to adjourn in the early summer ahead of fall elections when all 170 General Assembly seats are on the ballot.

Other nonbudget legislation likely to advance during the Session includes a House bill that would force sheriffs to assist federal agents in picking up jail inmates they believe are in the country illegally. The Senate also wants the House to consider its measure legalizing and regulating medical marijuana.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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