News: CJ Exclusives

Cooper says he wants budget provisions removed that would curb a governor’s powers

Gov. Roy Cooper (CJ photo by Maya Reagan)
Gov. Roy Cooper (CJ photo by Maya Reagan)

Gov. Roy Cooper wants a provision to curb a governor’s powers removed from state budget plans.

Cooper, a Democrat, responding to a question during a press conference Wednesday, Aug. 18, said he plans to talk with Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, as well as House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, about his concerns. 

“I hope they will” remove [the provisions], said Cooper, citing concerns over an increase 0f COVID-19 cases — which health officials blame on the Delta variant and unvaccinated people — over the past several weeks.

“We are in the middle of a public health crisis, and we do not need to alter the emergency management act at this time,” Cooper said during the news conference, which focused on COVID-19, as well as the recent flooding in the western part of the state.

“My priorities are already out there and have been there for a while,” Cooper said of his own budget ideas.

Those include expanding Medicaid, spending more on education, even though Republicans in recent years have passed measures raising pay for teachers and other school workers, among other initiatives, such as ensuring every school district has at least one school psychologist and allocating $6 million to fund implementation of the Excellent Public Schools Act.

The budget bill, Senate Bill 105, places checks on a governor’s power, including the inclusion of firmer language requiring approval of the Council of State — a group of 10 statewide elected officers, including the lieutenant governor, auditor, and attorney general — for emergency executive orders.

In response, Carolina Journal has reported, the House and Senate advanced legislation to that effect, but neither effort made it to Cooper’s desk. Formerly reserved for the occasional hurricane or severe winter weather, Cooper, since the start of the pandemic last year, has issued a series of executive orders declaring emergencies that, for example, have restricted people’s movements, limited gatherings, closed businesses, set curfews, closed schools, and mandated masks.

Cooper on Wednesday said he would veto the final budget plan “if I have to,” but it’s still too early in the process to make that call. 

“All options are on the table,” he said.

Republican leadership said it’s puzzled by Cooper’s comments.

“It’s tough to square Governor Cooper’s professed interest in governing collaboratively with his refusal to cede the emergency power he’s guarded for 18 months,” Berger spokesman Pat Ryan told CJ. “Even disgraced soon-to-be former [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo gave up his emergency powers months ago.”

In total, the Senate’s budget proposal would spend $10.4 billion in 2021-22 and $10.5 billion in 2022-23 on K-12 public education. That amount includes a 3% raise for teachers over two years, in addition to one-time bonuses of $300 and between $1,000 and $1,500 added bonuses from federal funds. Additionally, noncertified school employees would see their wages rise to a minimum of $13 per hour.

The budget also includes a significant expansion of the state’s three school choice scholarships aimed at low- and middle-income families and those with students with special needs.

The House plan designates $750 million for school capital funding over the next two years using money from the N.C. Education Lottery. That plan also maintains the perennial focus on teacher salary raises, as well as raises for other state employees. It brings back a 10% pay increase for teachers who earn relevant master’s degrees, offers $300 testing bonuses to all teachers, revises personal leave policies to eliminate the $50 charge for teachers missing a school day, and increases assistant principal pay by 3%.