North Carolina may go a third straight year without a new state budget. We definitely will go an 11th straight year without a budget written by Democrats.
What would such a creature look like? Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has shown us.
His plan is sweeping and starkly different from budgets passed by Republicans since 2011. Cooper would transform North Carolinaâ€™s healthcare, education, energy use, infrastructure, job training, pandemic assistance and approach to racial issues.
But few North Carolinians know that.
News tends to focus on the legislature; something newsworthy happens there nearly every day. Governor Cooper isnâ€™t one to pound the podium and command the cameras. He prefers patient, persistent persuasion with legislators.
The Governor reiterated his â€œmission statementâ€ in an email this month to supporters:
â€œI want a North Carolina where people are better educated, healthier, with more money in their pockets, and where there are more equitable opportunities for people to have lives of purpose and abundance. Every single day I come to work with this goal in mind.â€
As political messages go, itâ€™s somewhat clunky. But itâ€™s clear. And Cooper has stuck to it consistently since he ran in 2016.
Senate Republicans, supported by four Democrats, passed their budget last month. (The Democratsâ€™ districts would get a lot of money in the package.) The Senate budget is more of the same since 2011: more tax cuts for corporations, limited budget increases for public schools and paltry pay raises (3% over two years) for teachers.
The Governorâ€™s says his approach â€œmeans fighting for access to affordable, quality healthcare.â€ He would expand Medicaid healthcare coverage to a half-million more people: â€œIt makes people healthier. It uses tax dollars wisely and reduces health care costs for businesses. It makes health care more fair. It reaches rural areas.â€
â€œIt means a commitment to solving our climate crisis and making our state more resilient in the face of increasing storms.â€ He would â€œexpand access to clean energy technologies, invest in clean energy economic development, promote offshore wind, and build the clean energy workforce to catalyze North Carolinaâ€™s economy.â€
â€œIt means investing in public schools.â€ He wants â€œmore children getting high quality pre-K and a healthy start at birth. More children who learn to read in elementary school. More children inspired to learn trades in middle school. And more well-paid educators who can guide children as well as adults getting trained for a second career.â€
â€œAnd that means paying teachers moreâ€ â€“ 10% raises over the next two years. Cooper would spend $1.5 billion of the $6.5 billion in surplus revenue to â€œmeet (the stateâ€™s) constitutional obligation of ensuring every student has access to a sound basic education.â€
In a time of heightened attention to racial issues, the Governor says his vision â€œmeans fighting discrimination at every turn and promoting policies that make North Carolina a better, more inclusive place to live and work for everyone.â€
Heâ€™d also make job training more affordable and available. Heâ€™d invest in infrastructure â€“ from schools to bridges to broadband. Heâ€™d help businesses hurt by the pandemic â€“ restaurants, hotels, conventions, hospitality and tourism.
In 2017 and 2018, the legislature overrode Cooperâ€™s vetoes and passed its own budget. His vetoes withstood override attempts in 2019 and 2020, and the state went without an updated budget. Spending continued at prior levels, leaving needs unmet and issues unaddressed.
The Governorâ€™s plan wonâ€™t pass this year, again. Weâ€™ll see if he persuades Republicans to make significant changes. But he has met his responsibility, as the stateâ€™s chief executive and the Democratic Partyâ€™s leader, to offer an alternative vision for North Carolinaâ€™s future.
State revenue situation: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article252128958.html
Governorâ€™s budget: https://www.osbm.nc.gov/budget/governors-budget-recommendations