Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rep. Ray Russell Supports Governor Cooper's Budget Proposal

Yesterday, Gov. Roy Cooper released his compromise state budget proposal. It includes healthcare coverage for nearly 500,000 working poor North Carolinians, a larger increase in teacher and state employee pay, more funding for school construction, additional spending for clean air and water, and restored funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

This offer from Gov. Cooper is an investment in our people and our future. We must devote resources to education, healthcare, and protecting the environment.

The proposal keeps the corporate and franchise taxes at their current low rate, and retains the General Assembly (GA) plan to increase the standard deduction on state taxes to help working families. The Governor’s plan includes $700 million for the Rainy Day Fund and $110 million for hurricane relief.

Gov. Cooper is being fiscally responsible with his compromise proposal. Under his plan the state would spend the same as the General Assembly proposed for this year, but it actually reduces spending compared to the General Assembly plan during the following year.

Some highlights of Gov. Cooper’s compromise proposal:

Local projects:
·      App State’s Wey Hall renovation funding restored.
·      Appalachian Theatre.
·      West Jefferson sign project.
·      Blowing Rock streetscape project.
·      Watauga River Paddle Trail.
·      Removal of Ward’s Mill Dam on the Watauga River.

·      Public school construction funded by an additional $500 million over the GA plan and would allow a referendum on school bonds by voters. Ashe County Schools would receive more than $11.5 million in funding ($775,000 more than the GA plan), and Watauga County Schools would get nearly $12.5 million (an additional $1.2 million over the GA proposal).
·      Smart Start would have increased funding by $10 million each year.
·      Statewide pre-K slots increased by 2 percent, phasing into 8 percent in the future.
·      Community college instructors would receive a 4 percent raise (compared to the 2 percent offered by the GA).
·      UNC system SPA employees to receive 5 percent raise (2 percent in the GA plan). UNC faculty receive a 1 percent raise.
·      Teacher pay increased by an average of 8.5 percent over two years with pay raises for all teachers (3.8 percent in GA plan).
·      Teachers with master’s degrees get higher compensation.
·      Teachers would not have to pay a fee to have a substitute teacher work for them when they take personal leave days.

State employees and retirees:
·      Retirees receive a 2 percent raise (compare to 1 percent in the GA plan).
·      Most state employees receive a 5 percent pay raise (non-certified personnel included).

Medicaid expansion:
·      Medicaid expansion would cost the state nothing while bringing healthcare to more than 500,000 North Carolinians.
·      Expansion would benefit Ashe and Watauga counties with $64 million in economic growth over two years starting in 2020. 
·      This is a life-and-death issue for some North Carolinians who can’t afford healthcare coverage.

·      Rural high-speed internet service would get a boost with a $30 million investment.
·      State agencies, including the Department of Environmental Quality, would see a restoration of $6 million in cuts from the GA budget
·      The Department of Health and Human Services would see restoration of funding cuts reflected in the GA plan. This is crucial as DHHS transitions to Managed Medicaid.
·      $800 million in funding for statewide water/sewer projects restored.

There is no good reason why all parties can’t come together and accomplish our goals. What we all want is a prosperous and secure North Carolina where our children receive the best education, our residents are healthy, and our environment is protected.

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