RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – More than four months into the fiscal year, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the state budget into law Thursday afternoon after a series of bipartisan votes this week in the General Assembly.
It’s the first time since Cooper took office in 2017 that he’s been willing to put his signature on a state budget bill.
The House approved the spending plan Thursday by a vote of 101-10.
“It’s cutting taxes. It’s wisely investing the tax dollars that we have, the most money in the history of the state in infrastructure,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R). “And, we did take a lot of the suggestions from the Governor as well.”
Total spending will be $25.9 billion in the current fiscal year and climb to $27 billion next year.
The budget includes raises of 5 percent over two years for most state workers. Teacher raises would be 5 percent on average. They would also receive one-time bonuses.
The budget also reduces personal and corporate income taxes, the largest tax cut plan approved in state history.
The personal income tax rate will drop to 4.99 percent next year and reach 3.99 percent in 2027. The corporate income tax, which is currently 2.5 percent, will begin to be phased out in 2025 and reach zero after 2029.
Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) was one of ten Democrats in the House to vote against the budget plan.
“We have the money. We could have given 10 percent raises to our teachers, to our state employees. Our retirees deserve a cost of living increase, not bonuses. Bonuses don’t do enough,” she said. “We could have done a lot more.”
The negotiations over the budget have lasted most of the year, but they entered a new phase almost two months ago when Republicans began closed-door talks with Gov. Roy Cooper.
The details of those meetings have largely been secret, but documents released by Republican Senate leader Phil Berger’s office in response to records requests from news organizations shed new light on what happened. We’ve filed a similar request with Gov. Cooper’s office that has not yet been fulfilled.
The documents show Republicans gave Cooper their proposed budget in late September, which included various items such as an average raise of 2 percent for teachers in each year of the biennium, raises of 2 percent each year for most state employees as well as the tax cut package.
Cooper responded on Oct. 4 wanting them to make a variety of changes some of which include: Medicaid expansion, agree to more modest tax cuts, increase teacher raises to 8 percent over two years, restore masters pay for teachers and give them eight weeks of parental leave.
He also wanted them to remove various controversial policy provisions. In the budget that passed Thursday, Republicans did take out some of them, including a requirement that teachers post lesson plans online for the public to scrutinize. They kept in new limits on the Governor’s emergency authority.
The Republicans got back to Cooper on Oct. 19. In their new offer the proposed: increasing state employee salaries to 5 percent over the biennium, increasing the K-12 budget by $100 million, removing some of the controversial policy provisions, appropriating remaining 2020 Help America Vote Act grant funds and using remaining American Rescue Plan funding in areas like digital literacy and audit expenses.
Cooper sent a response to that on Oct. 27 in which he outlined to options for moving forward. If the Republicans would agree to expand Medicaid, he would support deeper tax cuts. He also came down to 6 percent raises for teachers. The second option would be not to include Medicaid expansion but in exchange he wanted more modest tax cuts and full funding of the Leandro school plan.
Republicans did not respond to either option in writing.
Cooper wrote to them one last time on Nov. 9, calling for them to commit to an up-or-down vote on Medicaid expansion by the end of the legislative session next year. If they did not take the vote, then the law blocking the Dept. of Health and Human Services from expanding Medicaid would be repealed.
Republicans ultimately decided to form a committee to study the issue next year. They are not committing to voting on a bill to expand Medicaid.
“Well, I just don’t think it’s proper to commit to a vote. Any idea has to go through a committee process,” said Speaker Moore. “I continue to oppose just blanket expansion that doesn’t have work requirements that I believe is going to be a disincentive for folks working and getting a job.”
Gov. Cooper said Thursday support for expanding Medicaid is growing and thinks it would pass if put to a vote now.
“A study committee is good. Real action is better,” he said Thursday. “Many (people) are stuck without health insurance even though they’re working hard to put food on the table. That’s not right.”