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Cooper counter-offer includes millions more for schools

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Gov. Roy Cooper’s counter-offer to the Republican state budget would spend millions more to improve local schools, albeit through taking on debt, and would provide larger raises for teachers and some state employees.

It would also maintain local projects, including more than $1 million for Elizabeth City and $2.5 million for Elizabeth City State University, that the Senate leadership is apparently threatening to cut over the budget impasse.

Cooper and Democratic lawmakers detailed their counter-offer in a press release Tuesday morning. Cooper vetoed Republicans’ budget, House Bill 966, almost two weeks ago, demanding it include Medicaid expansion and more funding for schools and teachers. Though House Republicans are considering a version of Medicaid expansion, Senate President Phil Berger remains staunchly opposed to doing so.

Cooper’s offer calls for more spending on school repairs and other infrastructure through a $3.5-billion bond, which is $400 million smaller than the bond he proposed this spring. Cooper proposed a slightly smaller bond while also tapping less money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund.

To avoid interest payments, Senate Republicans proposed using the SCIF instead of a bond to fund school repairs and infrastructure — though reports from Cooper claim Senate leaders have only committed to spending $453.8 million within the next two years.

Were Cooper’s counter-offer passed, and the bond approved by voters, it would provide $14.9 million to Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, compared to $12.5 million in the conference budget.

Camden County Schools would get $11.3 million, versus $10.7 million; Edenton-Chowan Schools would get $11.5 million versus $10.7 million; Currituck County Schools would get $12.1 million, versus $11.1 million; and Perquimans County Schools would get $10.9 million, versus $10.5 million.

Though Cooper’s proposal would provide more funding for school capital, a spokesman for Berger’s office, Pat Ryan, said Tuesday that Cooper’s $3.5 billion bond would come with $2.2 billion in interest payments over 20 years. He said that’s based on standard debt assumptions made by the state treasurer.

Ryan also countered the Senate budget is proposing to spend money available now, while a bond would have to approved by voters in late 2020, delaying the start of projects.

Cooper’s counter-offer also calls for dropping corporate tax cuts to pay for larger teacher raises, at an average of 9.1 percent versus 3.8 percent included in the budget now. Cooper’s press release argues the state should cut taxes for people, not corporations, meaning he accepts Republicans’ recommendation to slightly raise the standard deductions for personal income taxes.

A legislative fiscal note available online estimates H966’s corporate and franchise tax cuts would cost $363 million over two years, while cutting personal income taxes would cost $54 million over that time.

In some concessions, Cooper said he agrees to H966’s local projects, funding for the Brody School of Medicine, $110 million for hurricane relief, funding for historically-black colleges and universities, $700 million over two years for the state’s “rainy day” fund, $30 million for a rural broadband grant program, and $30 million for classroom supplies to teachers.