RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly a couple of weeks ago had rather harsh things to say about the budget proposal from Gov. Roy Cooper – using words such as “irresponsible” and “unserious” – so today Cooper returned the favor on the budget proposed by the House.

In a series of takes posted on his Twitter account, Cooper’s terms for the House’s plans involved “extreme policy” and “more tax breaks for the wealthy.”

Gov. Roy Cooper addresses the General Assembly in his State of the State speech. (AP PHOTO)

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said this morning that he expects the House to take its required three votes on this budget on Wednesday and Thursday. Some weeks ago he promised Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) that he would deliver his budget by Easter, which is Sunday.

The plan making its way through committees started as a 639-page document, but members have filed numerous amendments to be debated along the way.

The budget calls for about $29.787 billion in 2023-24 and $30.903 billion in ’24-’25. It includes a reduction in tax revenue in both years, with the state individual tax rate decreasing to 4.5% in 2024, which is earlier than lawmakers had thought could happen. It also redistributes $1.64 billion that the state would receive in the next eight quarters in subsidies from the recently adopted expansion of Medicaid.

State Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem)

“Medicaid money is sprinkled throughout the budget,” state Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), the senior chair of the Appropriations Committee, said. “We are reserving $1 billion for mental health reform.”

But he cited $1.1 billion to target high-need areas: workforce development, mental health and school safety, including $117 million for new safety grants for classroom safety, antibullying and local law enforcement grants.

The House’s budget also includes raises for teachers, public employees and retirees, and, as state Rep. Amos Quick pointed out during the discussion in the Appropriations Committee, it “includes a lot of education policy.”

That’s primarily the issue that Cooper attacked in his Tweets, largely because the budget does not include the distribution of $1.75 billion judges have ordered under the long-standing Leandro decision. The NC Supreme Court paused the directive on that distribution as lower courts again determine the immediate requirement from the General Assembly.

“The House budget fails public schools while injecting culture wars into classrooms, increasing vouchers for unaccountable private schools, giving even more tax breaks to wealthy people and letting childcare centers fail when they’re needed to help parents get back to work,” Cooper wrote.

“House GOP fail to fund the Leandro plan to meet state’s constitutional obligation for a sound basic education for all students. Instead, this budget prioritizes private school vouchers, even over funding early childhood education, competitive teacher pay & building new schools.”

Cooper’s plan

NC Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham)

If you want to know why Cooper is complaining, compare that to his spending plan submitted on March 15, which called for $32.95 billion in 2023-24 and $34.24 billion in ’24-’25.

In it, Cooper asked for $4.5 billion to “fully fund” public education, as the on-and-off Leandro court decision requires the legislature to do.

Cooper asked for 18% raises for teachers; 8% cost-of-living increases for all state employees plus retention bonuses to address hiring gaps; about $1.2 billion for workforce development; $100 million for public safety; and $1.4 billion to address the mental health crisis.

That’s what led Berger to call his plan “an irresponsible, unserious proposal from a lame-duck governor who wants future North Carolinians to pick up his tab.”

Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), the House majority whip, defended the House’s budget plan as “a fiscally-responsible budget that contains enhanced funding for the core services of government. Education, public safety, health care, transportation and state parks will receive increased funding in this budget.”

About school curricula

But Cooper wasn’t seeing it that way, as much because of how schools would be controlled as the dollars and sense behind the plan.

“This budget gives responsibility for setting school curricula to legislative political appointees, making it easier for fringe ideologues to remove core lessons like science, civics & history from the classroom and putting North Carolina on the front lines of the culture wars,” Cooper wrote.

“Quality childcare is necessary to give children a strong start and for parents to get back to work. Many of these child care centers are barely hanging on and legislative Republicans want to throw them off a cliff when federal funding runs out later this year.”

Childcare funding

State Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro)

You may recall that state Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), the deputy Democratic leader in the House, had helped lead a bipartisan group of House members, called the Joint Legislative Early Childhood Caucus, to file a series of five bills (with Senate companions) to address both the immediate problem of vanishing federal subsidies and the long-term problem of childhood development and the need for workforce development across the state.

But the House budget does not include the $300 million required to replace federal subsidies that emerged during the pandemic, which will expire in December. Those grants helped to pay teachers more and keep centers open.

“Childcare is often very expensive for families to afford,” Susan Perry of the NC Department of Health and Human Services told WNCN-Ch. 17. “But at the same time, it’s a business that operates at very thin margins. So it really needs the extra support.”

She said that the subsidies had helped the childcare centers to compete on the wage rates that have grown significantly in the past few years.

Said Cooper: “A budget that pushes extreme policy changes and more tax breaks for the wealthy over the basic needs of students and parents is wrong for our state, and legislators should get back to the drawing board.”