Governor Roy Cooper’s proposed budget for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, released late last week, months late in presentation, indicates that he’s more interested in pandering for votes in the upcoming November election against Republican candidate Dan Forest than in creating a financial plan to improve the state’s economy for the benefit of all residents.
The governor’s budget has numerous major flaws but five demand attention and rejection by both N.C. voters and the state legislature which will formally review the budget when it convenes in September.
Governor Cooper has obviously decided that it is both economically and politically expedient to increase spending in the face of declining business activity and subsequent reduced tax revenues; eliminate services to low income families; increase the state’s debt; continue financing business bribes for businesses to locate in the state; and to single out one group of state employees for one-time bonuses.
Brian Balfour, Executive Vice President of the Civitas Institute notes that Cooper’s total proposed General Fund spending comes in at $25.04 billion, which according to the state controller’s office is $1 billion more than last year and $1.4 billion over fiscal year 2018-19. Cooper’s proposed budget will also decimate the state’s estimated tax surplus that the legislature has been nursing in case the state’s revenues fail to rebound due continued economic stress of the pandemic or delayed recovery due to other circumstances.
And while the governor focuses on spending all the money in the state’s bank account he proposes to add over $5 billion in additional debt on the state with a $4.3 billion bond for schools and a $988 million health care infrastructure bond that will not require voter approval.
His budget proposal doesn’t shy from spreading his largess to the teachers’ union and big business while the majority of the state’s taxpayers continue to feel the impact of reduced incomes due to the continued closures mandated by the governor.
In the case of big business the governor has found $18 million of additional funding for the One NC Fund. Mr. Balfour notes that this special fund managed by the state’s commerce department “directs taxpayer dollars to politically-selected corporations while thousands of small businesses face bankruptcy due to Cooper’s shut-down order.”
In addition to pandering to big businesses, Cooper’s proposed budget targets one group that has continued to support his election and the Democrat party- the state’s teachers’ union, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).
His support for NCAE is seen with the several budgetary actions. The governor’s budget eliminates the Opportunity Scholarship program, funded by the legislature through the state’s general fund, which provides up to $4,200 tuition support annually for low income families seeking better educational opportunities for their children. To date over 20,000 students from low income conditions have been given the opportunity to attend the private school of their choice, an opportunity that is normally available only to well-to-do families.
Earlier this year, the current NCAE president was so fearful of giving students and families a choice that she initiated a lawsuit to stop the scholarship program.
But Cooper’s efforts to garner support of the NCAE goes even further to include one-time bonuses. For teachers he proposes a $2000 bonus amounting to $230 million; $1,000 one-time bonus for non-certified school personnel amounting to $50 million; and $1,500 one-time bonus for community college personnel totaling $80 million. All told this is $360 million in bonuses.
We appreciate the work that these educators are doing but considering the loss of jobs created by the governor’s mandates that he initiated to “bend the curve” of hospitalization caused by the pandemic, a goal that was reached months ago, we have to question his concern for the rest of the state. Hundreds of thousands of employees and business owners are struggling with reduced incomes or no incomes and are reliant on government unemployment funds which are quickly diminishing due to continued business stagnation.
Considering the governor’s dismissal of the challenges the state and its residents are facing, his proposed budget, which coincidentally is being presented only two months from election day, indicates that he is both tone deaf to the concerns of the taxpayers and residents, and instead totally focused on his political career.
The legislature and voters should see Cooper’s budget proposal for what it is, a document to garner votes, not a financial game plan to stabilize and improve North Carolina’s economy.