In the “better late than never” category, Gov. Roy Cooper submitted his proposed budget to the North Carolina legislature on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
The state fiscal year began on July 1, but this is an unusual year not only because of the many executive orders issued by Cooper dealing with COVID-19, but because the state doesn’t actually have a budget.
Back in 2019, before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19 and when someone walked into a business wearing a mask people assumed it was a robbery, Cooper and the Republican-led legislature couldn’t reach an agreement on the budget. The state House eventually overrode Cooper’s budget veto, but the state Senate was never able to get the one vote from a Democratic senator it needed to override the veto.
As a result, the state continued the spending levels of the previous budget, along with some alterations Cooper did sign that were called “mini-budget” bills.
On Friday, Aug. 21, the state Senate Budget Committee Chairs Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and Sen. Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) in a press release said, “Proposing budgets when the state is flush is easy, but making tough calls during a recession is what demands real leadership. Gov. Cooper hasn’t bothered with a budget proposal this year, and we’re moving ahead with final plans on what to propose to the full legislature. A budget proposal from the Governor the week before we come into session is pointless.”
The legislative session begins on Wednesday, Sept. 2.
Cooper is still pushing for Medicaid expansion but indicates in his budget letter that it might not trump everything else in the budget, as it did in 2019.
Cooper wants a $2,000 bonus for teachers, $1,500 bonus for school support staff and $1,500 bonus for community college and university employees.
Cooper also wants to defund Opportunity Scholarships, while the Republican budget leaders want to expand the eligibility thresholds for Opportunity Scholarships, which are scholarships for low and moderate income families to help pay tuition at private schools.
Cooper also wants to put a $4.3 million bond on the ballot to provide funding for schools, higher education, water and sewer, and affordable housing, along with a separate bond for $988 million for healthcare facilities and development of a vaccine that would not require a public vote.
The legislature only plans to be in session for two days, which is going to make reconciling the Republican proposed budget with Cooper’s proposed budget a daunting task.