Roy Cooper released a budget yesterday that clearly outlines Democratic priorities. Republicans say it’s dead on arrival. Maybe so, but it sure sets up a fight in an election year. Cooper is betting that the priorities in his budget mirror the priorities of the state.
Cooper’s budget lays out an 8% raise for teachers on his quest to make North Carolina salaries reach the national average. It funds the shortage of school nurses and counselors facing schools across the state. State employees would get a raise of $1,250 or 2%, whichever is higher. It also funds environmental protection, farmland preservation and affordable housing. He would pay for it by halting the pending tax cuts for corporations and an income tax reduction that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest North Carolinians.
House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger are having none of it. The legislature gets to write the budget and they’re going to keep going down the path we’ve traveled since the GOP took control of the legislature in 2011. They’re going to let people keep more of the their money, as they say, and continue to underfund vital programs. They argue that their priorities have led North Carolina’s economy to be one of the fastest growing in the nation.
That may or may not be true, but the benefits of that growth haven’t trickled down very far. Adjusting for inflation, median income is about where it was before the Great Recession kicked in a decade ago. And the tax cuts they claim have spurred the growth have come with a price. Our teacher pay and per pupil spending has dropped into the bottom third in the country. Our prisons are so underfunded and understaffed that we’re losing personnel to violence. At a time when mass shootings and school shootings are on the uptick, we lack the counselors and staff in schools that might intervene before tragedies occur.
Cooper’s budget includes $25.7 million for mental health services. Republicans who claim gun violence is a mental health issue can either embrace a similar increase or admit they’re paying lip service instead of offering solutions. The public wants government to act on gun violence but we’ve seen nothing substantial from Republicans other than proposals to expand access to guns or to arm teachers.
Cooper has laid down a truly Democratic budget, one that reflects a party that believes government can help people with better education and better healthcare and one that tries to fairly compensate the people who serve the state . Republicans’ budget will likely reflect their priorities—putting more money into the pockets of corporations and the wealthy and hoping that it trickles down. It hasn’t yet.