Governor Cooper released an ambitious budget proposal yesterday and while there’s already some dissent from Republican legislative leaders, the governor seems cautiously optimistic about finding common ground on issues like healthcare, education, and infrastructure.

“Unlike the last budget cycle that we had, I have had numerous conversations with both Republican and Democratic leadership,” Cooper said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “One thing we agreed on is, first, the people of North Carolina elected us again so we’re back in the same situation that we were, and we owe to them to do the best that we can to find a path forward. We’ve all agreed that everything is on the table.”

Overall, the main focus of the spending plan over the next two years is on helping the state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $55.9 billon budget, which proposes spending $27.4 billion for FY 2021-2022 and $28.5 billion for FY 2022-2023, would increase pay significantly for teachers—an average 10 percent over the next two years—plus give a 7.5 percent pay raise to some administrative staff, and a guaranteed $15 minimum living wage for non-certified school personnel. Teachers, principals, and other school employees would also receive $2,000 bonuses this year and an additional $1,000 bonus next year. The budget would also provide money to recruit and train educators and add positions such as school nurses, counsellors, psychologists, and social workers, plus funds for Pre-K and early learning.

Most state employees would see a 2.5 percent raise each year, and university employees would see even higher pay increases.

The budget proposes adding a $4.7 billion general obligation bond on the ballot this fall for public schools, the UNC system, community colleges, health and safety projects, and for museums, zoos, parks, and historic sites.

The budget would help more than 600,000 North Carolinians access healthcare, infusing $5 billion in investment in the state through Medicaid expansion.

The governor proposes reinstating the Earned Income Tax Credit, where families making less than $50,000 annually would get a break on their tax bills. It would also provide money for childcare, around $400 per family. 

The plan doesn’t raise taxes but would use some $5.3 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan on key priorities including expanding access to broadband, assisting recovering businesses, providing education and workforce training, and improving outdate sewer and water infrastructure.

“With the right priorities, we will not only beat this pandemic, but build lasting success for North Carolina,” Gov. Cooper said in a press statement. “The most important recommendations today will invest in North Carolina’s people so they can learn, get healthier, and get the right kind of training for great jobs.”

The N.C. Association of Educators and State Employees Association of North Carolina are pleased with the proposal. Republicans, predictably, are less pleased and will begin negotiating their own budgets in the state House and Senate in the coming weeks.

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