RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With the end of his two consecutive terms as North Carolina governor in sight, Roy Cooper (D) announced his priorities for the state budget Wednesday morning.
His recommended budget, titled “First in Opportunity,” lays out how state tax dollars ought to be allocated for fiscal years 2023-25.
“This budget we’re presenting today meets the moment,” Cooper said.
The plan Cooper outlined in a news conference will not require a raise in state taxes, he said, but it does make several key investments — namely, a big one for North Carolina’s educators.
The budget includes an average 18 percent raise for teachers and principals over the two-year period. He said it also fully funds the court-ordered Leandro plan.
“With 5,000 teacher vacancies across our state we must provide educators with the pay and the respect that they so richly deserve,” Cooper said.
Cooper is also proposing across-the-board pay raises of 8 percent for state workers. They would be eligible for retention bonuses of at least $1,000, as would school employees.
“This budget we’re presenting today meets the moment,” Cooper said. “The major focus of my budget is strengthening education with historic investments — from cradle to career.”
Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said the governor picked “winners and losers.”
She’s concerned that state employees would receive a 5 percent raise in the first year of the budget when the inflation rate is still at 6 percent, according to this week’s consumer price index report.
“To give a raise that doesn’t even match inflation is hardly something that shows them you want them to stay here,” she said. “We can’t see how you can possibly put together a budget where retention and recruitment is so vital and not at least match the inflation rate.”
The governor noted in his budget presentation that the vacancy rate in state government has climbed to 23.4 percent. Additionally, the turnover rate among employees in their first year on the job is 36 percent.
“They work through one budget cycle and they see it’s not likely to get better because they see where they are prioritized,” said Watkins.
When asked about the difference in proposed raises for educators and state employees, Cooper said, “In our education system, historically it’s been underfunded. It’s one of the reasons why we have 5,000 teacher vacancies. Ours is one of the greatest in the nation.”
The budget Republicans in the General Assembly crafted two years ago and that Cooper signed into law calls for the income tax rates for individuals and for businesses to continue to drop over the next several years.
Cooper is now calling for the corporate income tax rate and the income tax rate for people making over $200,000 to remain where they are, only allowing the tax rate for those making under $200,000 to continue to drop. It would reach 3.99 percent in 2027.
“I think it’s important that we concentrate our tax cuts for the working families. And, we also want to maintain the funding we need to make the investments in education that we need,” said Cooper.
More investments in the proposal include increased funding for child care, job training, and economic development. The budget proposal also stashes away $7 billion in reserves in case of a potential downturn.
N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (R) and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R) both responded to the proposal, calling it “reckless” and “unrealistic.”
Moore’s response likened the proposal to the “same reckless approach to spending that his fellow Democrats have taken in Washington.” He said, “Unfortunately, this kind of runaway spending has resulted in a failing economy that has left millions of Americans behind.”
Echoing a similar sentiment, Berger said in a release, “This is an irresponsible, unserious proposal from a lame-duck governor who wants future North Carolinians to pick up his tab.”
He pointed to blue states like New York, California and Illinois, suggesting a budget like this would follow in the “same failed Democratic playbook that is causing residents to flee.”
“Gov. Cooper wants to go on a reckless spending spree by raising taxes, raiding the state’s savings account, and proposing the largest increase in year-over-year spending in the state’s history,” Berger added.