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Cooper signs a nearly $28B new state budget into law

Governor Cooper looks off-camera
NC Dept. of Public Safety
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Updated at 5:35 p.m.

With Governor Roy Cooper's signature, North Carolina now has a new $27.9 billion state budget that includes significant investment in education, economic development, and transportation.

House Bill 103 does not include Medicaid expansion, though, in a press release issued Monday, Cooper says legislators are "closer than ever to agreement" on that plan. Cooper also announced the COVID-19 state of emergency will be lifted on August 15, 2022.

This is the second GOP spending plan Cooper signed into law in less than eight months. This measure alters the second year of the two-year budget bill that Cooper signed last November. He signed no budgets during his first 58 months as governor, opting to veto budget bills in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Cooper faced supermajorities for much of that period.

The governor gave the spending plan his approval just hours before his 10-day deadline to act was set to expire. In recent days Cooper has offered tepid support, but the plan checks off several boxes which Cooper is sure to be happy about: investment in water and sewer projects, raises for public school teachers, and support for various cabinet agencies. It also includes a new inflationary reserve fund, doles out an average of 3.5% raises for state employees, and provides some of the Governor’s executive agencies with needed appropriations.

Budget breakdown snapshot:

  • $370 million for raises for state employees and public school teachers that amounts to an average 3.5 % raise for most state workers
  • An average 4.2% raise for K-12 teachers
  • $80 million for labor market salary adjustments — a provision designed to address staffing issues
  • $875 million for economic development projects, including $450 million for a new transformative project
  • $500 million addition allocated to the savings reserves — that brings the total reserve cash-on-hand in state coffers to $4.75 billion

This plan, which was written by the Republican-led legislature, received strong bipartisan support at the legislature. In a joint statement, NC House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said they are "pleased Governor Cooper signed this responsible spending plan into law" and that "active negotiations" are underway to reach a deal over Medicaid expansion.
However, progressives Deb Butler (D-New Hanover), Graig Meyer (D-Orange), Marcia Morey (D-Durham) and Brian Turner (D-Buncombe) voted no, citing raises that were overly modest, a lack of funding for environmental issues, and stashing too much in reserves. Some also criticized it for not appropriating more for public education. Critics say when factoring in for inflation, most public school teachers will actually receive what amounts to a pay cut.

The state has more than $6 billion in available funds. This budget marks the second time in eight months that Cooper signed a budget, following an impasse of more than three years.

On Monday, Cooper also approved a bail bonds-related bill and vetoed four bills, including a Republican-backed bill that would direct North Carolina sheriffs to learn the immigration status of jailed inmates and assist federal immigration enforcement agents if they want to detain anyone.

The vetoed bills are:

To date, Cooper has sustained all 43 of his vetoes since Democrats ended Republican Supermajorities three years ago.
WUNC's Laura Pellicer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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