Gov. Cooper's $24.5 billion budget proposal prioritizes public education, workforce development and rural communities.
“We have to strengthen education and invest in a stronger, skilled, healthier workforce that leads to better paying jobs,” said Cooper on Thursday at a press conference in Raleigh, where he unveiled his recommended budget adjustments for the 2018 - 2019 fiscal year.
Cooper released his budget proposal about a week before the General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene. The plan includes pay increases for teachers and other state employees, a $60 million workforce development fund and more funding for rural economic development and infrastructure. To pay for the proposed pay raises, Cooper's plan would freeze tax breaks for corporations and people who make more than $200,000 a year.
“That is about $110 million that will go for teacher pay next year, instead of tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy," Cooper said. "And in the coming years, that will make an even bigger difference. It’s tax fairness for teacher pay.”
Under the proposed budget adjustments, the state's corporate tax rate would remain at 3 percent, the lowest in the country among states that have one. Residents earning less than $200,000 would get a slight tax break. The tax rate for people earning more than that would remain at 5.499 percent.
Here are some highlights from Cooper's budget proposal:
- Every teacher would receive at least a 5 percent pay raise. All state employees would get either a 2 percent pay raise or $1,250 added to their salary, whichever is more.
- The budget proposal would allocate $130 million to strengthen school safety, including hiring more nurses and school resource officers and upgrading facilities to make them more secure. It also allows for a $2 billion bond to help counties pay for school buildings.
- The $60 million NC Job Ready Fund would pay for free vocational training to students who are pursuing jobs in high-demand fields; tuition assistance to students who are close to completing a degree, but are struggling financially; and on-the-job training programs, such as appreniceships, internships and student employment.
- Areas still recovering from Hurricane Matthew would receive $140 million for repairs to homes, businesses and public infrastructure.
-Rural areas would receive $43 million for infrastructure improvements, including expanded broadband access and safe and affordable housing for low-income residents.
Cooper's proposal is already facing resistance from Republicans in the General Assembly. Soon after Cooper released his recommendations, state Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) issued a joint statement rejecting the plan. Cooper's recommended budget adjustments must pass through the state legislature before they can take effect.