Budgets approved by governing bodies at all levels are usually measures of how needs will be met. But the budget MAGA Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly are now considering falls far short of meeting the needs of most state residents, including our children.
The $30 billion budget proposal Governor Roy Cooper submitted for the upcoming two-year cycle was designed to address the well-being of all North Carolina residents. It proposed:
An 18% raise for teachers, currently among the least-paid in the country, and other members of the education community
Fully funding the Leandro plan, freeing $1 billion currently in escrow to improve public education
An increase in pay and benefits for state employees
$600 million for childcare grants and subsidies
Tax breaks for middle-class families
More funding for mental health
Investments in infrastructure
General Assembly Republicans announced the Cooper budget was dead on arrival and set about proposing spending that reflects a different set of priorities.
The raise for state workers in the Senate version of the bill is a meager 5%, 2.5% each year, with no additional benefits.
Instead of an 18% raise for teachers, the Senate version of the budget authorizes a stingy 4.5% salary increase and ignores the Leandro funds. North Carolina teachers are currently paid approximately $12,000 less per year than the national average.
The Senate legislation calls for accelerating scheduled tax cuts and authorizes a massive increase in private school vouchers — siphoning funds from the 93% of K-12 students who attend public schools.
The House version of the budget includes a provision blocking schools, local governments, and colleges from requiring students and staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Needless to say, Gov. Cooper was not pleased. In declaring a state of emergency caused by the Senate’s proposal, he said the Senate budget is a “historic disaster” for public education, and the raise for teachers amounts to “a slap in the face.” He added the Senate proposal “fails to fund basic needs and will force school leaders to cut everything from bus routes to courses.”
Complicating Cooper’s options is a provision in the new Medicaid expansion law that delays its implementation until the budget is approved. Since health care coverage to low-income adults is one of the governor’s top priorities, Cooper may have to accept budget provisions he finds hard to swallow.
More bad MAGA ideas
Budgets — as important as they are — are not the only priorities the GOP is pursuing. Ever since Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2012, they have worked to augment their influence and power over all branches of state government. This year is no exception.
Already, as most of us know, the General Assembly has overridden the governor’s veto of its anti-abortion bill. The new law, currently one of the nation’s most restrictive, is set to take effect in July.
Meanwhile, a proposal stripping the governor of his authority over community colleges is in the works. Another bill would remove the governor’s power to name members of the State Board of Education. It's more evidence, if we need it, the MAGA GOP wants to weaken public education. Why else would a budget expanding tuition vouchers to unaccountable private schools award more than $3,000 annually to parents earning up to $250,000 a year?
As if these proposals were not enough, waiting in the wings is a new gerrymandering bill, which is sure to consolidate GOP gains and limit the ability of Democrats to get out the vote. A new voter ID requirement will also affect voter turnout — another insurance policy for incumbency.
It’s an unhelpful, narrow-minded agenda MAGA Republicans are offering. And it’s difficult to see how it will meet North Carolina’s unmet needs. But it should serve as an incentive to get Democrats and like-minded independents to the polls in 2024.