For the first time, Governor Roy Cooper has laid out his priorities in an official budget proposal for the state. Overall he calls for increased spending, but there is notable exception. He wants to phase out North Carolina’s private school voucher program.
Here's the top line summary, Governor Cooper is calling for North Carolina's budget to grow by a little more than five percent. That translates to roughly a billion dollar increase in spending. It's something, Cooper said, the state can afford. "It lives within our means without raising taxes or fees and cutting services or borrowing from special funds. And it adds $300 million to the rainy day fund," used for disaster relief or as a cushion for the next economic downturn.
Much of the spending Cooper called for was in education. "We are catching up with investments in education all the way from birth through our community colleges and universities."
This budget would fund 4,700 more pre-k slots for four year olds, provide a child care tax credit for families. It would also increase teacher pay by an average of 10 percent over the next two years and a 6.5 percent raise for principals and other administrative staff.
Cooper wants to pay for some of his education priorities by eliminating a Republican priority, the Opportunity Scholarship Program. This provides vouchers for parents so they can send their children to private schools.
Cooper's budget would phase out the program which is due to cost the state nearly $35 million over the next two years. The General Assembly is in the process of expanding the program to $120 million over the next decade.
Others state employees would get either the greater of either a two percent pay bump or an $800 raise. Plus a $500 one-time bonus. Cooper said, "this would be the largest state employee pay raise in over a decade."
And state retirees would get a 1.5 percent cost of living increase.
Cooper also called for some $70 million in economic development money for rural areas and $20 million to restore the state's film incentive program.
It's a budget, Cooper said that both Republicans and Democrats could get behind.
It didn’t take long for that notion to go awry.
Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger quickly sent out a press release saying in part that Cooper's "reckless $1 billion spending spree would surely return us to the days of high taxes and multi-billion dollar deficits."