Gov. Roy Cooper wants to increase the state budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year from $27 billion to $29.3 billion, an increase of 8.5%. The money would come from $6.2 billion in additional revenue spelled out in the state’s latest forecast.
Cooper would place another $2.4 billion in reserves, leaving the remaining $1.5 billion unspent.
His budget recommendations released Wednesday include giving additional raises for all state workers, increasing funding for clean energy and environmental issues, fully funding the third year of the Leandro education plan, and expanding Medicaid, which was included in his last budget proposal.
The updated revenue forecast comes from the Fiscal Research Division of the N.C. General Assembly and Cooper’s Office of State Budget and Management.
“Families have returned to their lives of work and school after tremendous challenges but find that they still struggle to find affordable health care and child care,” said Cooper, a Democrat. “North Carolina is emerging from the pandemic stronger than before, and we will sustain that only if we invest in a strong foundation for our people: A quality education, good jobs and infrastructure, and access to affordable healthcare.”
Cooper’s recommendations include $691 million in recurring funding and $863 million in one-time money to increase compensation. That would include a 2.5% raise for all state workers, which would come on top of a 2.5% raise that is already included in the state budget that Cooper signed into law last November. In addition, he would like to see retention bonuses for state workers between $1,500 and $3,000 and the adjustment of teachers’ salary schedule so that all educators receive at least a 7.5% increase over the biennium, the same as state employees. Cooper would also provide an additional $1,000 retention bonus to all teachers and instructional support personnel as well as assistant principals and principals.
The budget adjustments would also provide $9 million to reinstate increased pay for educators who have obtained a master’s degree and would fully fund year three of the comprehensive remedial plan, which came about from the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit.
Cooper’s budget recommendations also extend the $15 per hour minimum wage for permanent state employees to temporary and seasonal workers and to employees paid through state contracts. The total cost of these proposals is $113.3 million.
A 1% cost of living adjustment and a nonrecurring 1% supplement was also proposed.
In addition, the proposal would give first-time homebuyers help with $50 million in down payment assistance with enhanced help for eligible first-time homebuyers who are public school teachers, career firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, or sworn law enforcement officers. Additional rental housing is also included.
Cooper also wants to expand Medicaid to cover up to 600,000 additional people. Republicans have been hesitant to support expansion in the past but did agree to form a Joint Legislative Study Committee on Access to Healthcare with the budget that was passed last year. The committee is studying health care issues. It will make recommendations to the full General Assembly.
“The pay increases are largely in response to the increasing price inflation courtesy of the Biden administration, but fail to provide needed reform to teacher pay,” said Brian Balfour, senior vice president of research with the John Locke Foundation. “Medicaid expansion remains a bad deal for North Carolina as it would crowd out care for the more needy traditional Medicaid population. And North Carolina students and families would be far better served by expanding school choice so that all children can learn in an environment of their choosing.”
Additional recommendations include $20 million of public-safety funding for school safety and mental health training; $10 million to fund law enforcement purchases of body-worn cameras; $1.2 million for gun locks for the public to be distributed by sheriffs’ offices, and for gun storage education; and funding for equipment supporting state troopers and probation and parole officers; $140 million for clean energy and environmental needs. That figure includes $92 million for natural and working lands, $22 million for clean transportation projects, $15 million for environmental justice, $11 million to expand clean energy access and adoption, and $1.9 million to enhance energy efficiency statewide.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland issued a statement regarding Cooper’s announcement, “While the Governor’s budget proposal includes several shared priorities, we are wary of excessively increasing spending in the face of potential economic downturns. We look forward to working with the Governor and members of the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle to put together a bipartisan budget for all North Carolinians.”
The short session of the General Assembly begins May 18.