Governor Roy Cooper and top legislative Republicans agree on one thing: North Carolina is enjoying a fourth consecutive revenue surplus this fiscal year. They just disagree on what to do with it.
Cooper, a Democrat, released a $24.5 billion spending plan just ahead of the short legislative session starting Wednesday. The primary purpose of the session is for the General Assembly to make adjustments to the state's biennial spending plan.
The governor proposed raising teacher pay, on average, by eight percent, and by no less than five percent.
Cooper's plan also includes money for hiring more correction officers and improving prison safety, expanding broadband access for rural areas, and increasing spending on treatment programs for opioid abuse.
To pay for these initiatives, Cooper proposed freezing the tax rate for high earners. Whereas the current two-year budget passed by the GOP-led General Assembly last year would lower the tax rate for people who earn more than $200,000 per year to 5.25 percent in the 2018-19 fiscal year, the governor proposes leaving the rate at 5.499 percent. Cooper's plan would still lower the tax rate for people with incomes up to $200,000 to 5.25 percent.
Cooper's plan would also leave the corporate tax rate at three percent for the next fiscal year, as opposed to reducing it to 2.5 percent as would happen under the current budget.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly quickly derided Cooper's plan.
As Cooper presented his plan to reporters, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) issued a joint statement that said the governor's plan "appears to be more of an unserious attempt to score political points in an election year than a responsible, sustainable budget."
"Roy Cooper has dutifully followed the same failed tax-and-spend policy playbook," the statement continued. "That led to furloughed North Carolina teachers, massive education cuts, hiring freezes for state employees and frozen teacher salaries the last time Democrats were in charge."
Cooper said it's the legislature's GOP leadership that is mishandling the budget.
"We don't need another irresponsible stranglehold on our budget that will weaken our state while helping corporations and the very rich on their income taxes," he told reporters Thursday.
Moore and Berger said they have agreed on a spending target of $23.9 billion.