Ahead Of Lawmakers' Return To Raleigh, Gov. Cooper Calls For More COVID Testing, Teacher Bonuses

Aug 28, 2020

Credit N.C. Department of Public Safety

A proposed budget plan issued this week by Governor Roy Cooper could set up some battle lines for this fall's General Election.

Cooper has issued a budgetary wish list as lawmakers return to Raleigh next week. The legislative session was scheduled so lawmakers could address the allocation of nearly $1 billion in COVID-19 federal relief funds.

Cooper is recommending to legislators how to spend those relief dollars, mainly for public health, K-12 schools and local governments. But he asked separately on Wednesday that legislators reconvening in Raleigh next week spend more state tax dollars on disaster relief, at-risk students and teacher bonuses.

The Democrat also tacked on other policy and spending prescriptions that will likely be idled by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. They include Medicaid expansion and more than $5 billion in debt for capital projects and infrastructure. Senate Republicans are wary of spending more state tax dollars during an uncertain economy. 

Long-term planning is kind of hard right now for lawmakers, says N.C. State University Economist Mike Walden.

"It's like a family who's trying to budget for next year and they don't know what their income's going to be,” Walden said.

The state is waiting to see if Congress approves another COVID-19 relief package, and the legislature's fiscal research division won't have a revenue forecast before late September.

Cooper, a Democrat, calls for using existing federal money to pay for more coronavirus testing as well as stockpiling protective equipment. He also wants lawmakers to authorize the use of state funds for teacher and principal bonuses.

But Cooper's plan needs more than the support of fellow Democrats in a state legislature still controlled by Republicans.

Walden says that might be a lot to ask from a Republican majority legislature set on fiscal restraint.

“I think the governor has proposed drawing down on the unemployment compensation fund, the Republicans want to keep more of that in the fund,” Walden said.

Cooper also wants lawmakers to cut funds from a private school vouchers program – a program supported by Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, the Republican candidate seeking to unseat Cooper this fall.