Democrats, Gov. Cooper and others react to NC House Republican state budget plan

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Tuesday he thinks the North Carolina budget proposal Republicans in the House of Representatives unveiled this week is an improvement over the version the Senate passed but added “that doesn’t make it good.”

House Republicans have called for tax cuts, higher pay for state workers and a variety of policy changes, some of which Democrats say they will oppose.

“Although there are positives, among the many changes we need is to expand Medicaid, invest significantly more in education and quality child care, stop sweeping corporate tax breaks and eliminate sneaky, damaging policy changes to public education, women’s health choices, environmental safeguards, and emergency authority to fight the pandemic,” Cooper said in a statement.

House lawmakers spent several hours in a committee Tuesday going over the specifics of the budget and debating amendments. Republican leaders aim to pass a budget by Thursday.

At that point, they would have to reconcile differences with the Republican-controlled Senate and with Gov. Cooper.

Beyond the financial impacts of the budget, including how much to pay state workers, it proposes changes impacting how teachers do their jobs and the authority of the governor to act in an emergency.

Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) raised concerns Tuesday about some of the education policy changes, including a requirement schools post instructional materials online for people to review. That includes lesson plans.

School boards would also have to set up a “media advisory committee” to hear complaints from people who want to challenge those materials as being “unfit.”

That comes amid the debate over critical race theory and as Republicans have tried to pass bills limiting how that’s taught in classrooms.

“I think it’s a dangerous track to be going on,” Fisher said. “It turns it into the parents and any other person in the neighborhood who decides they want to show up, even if they don’t have children in the schools, and say we disagree with the curriculum you’re teaching.”

Fisher said provisions like that shouldn’t be in the state budget but handled in other legislation. The House passed a bill earlier this year calling for those changes, but the Senate hasn’t acted on it.

Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) said, “Simply put, that’s what we’ve done for many years in the past.”

“(Parents) want to have the authority, which they should as a parent, to know what their child is being instructed. So, this just provides access to those materials,” he said.

The House budget plan also includes several changes educators have wanted including pay raises, restoring higher pay for teachers with master’s degrees and eliminating the requirement that teachers pay $50 to hire a substitute when they take a personal day.

“The budget proposal released by the House (Monday) represents a cautious step forward for North Carolina’s public school students after years of steps backwards. Investments in school counselors, school construction, and veteran educator pay parity all show a good faith commitment to the wellbeing of our educators, students, and their families,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Teachers would get 5.5 percent raises on average over two years under the House plan, while most state workers would get 5 percent.

“The House budget — it is better than what the Senate came out with. However, there still needs to be some improvements made,” said Resha Forston, a lobbyist for the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

While retirees would get a 2 percent supplement each year, Forston said they should get a permanent cost of living adjustment.

The budget also would put limits on Gov. Cooper’s emergency powers, the ability of Atty. Gen. Josh Stein (D) to enter into certain lawsuits and for the State Board of Elections to be able to settle lawsuits. Republicans have tried to pass legislation addressing that since the board settled a case last year impacting the rules for the 2020 election.

“We are responding to constituents that we hear on both sides of this issue about just how strong those powers should be. Should one man be in control?” said Rep. Torbett.

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