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Gov. Cooper Unveils First Budget, Focuses On Education Spending

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper unveiled his first budget proposal on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at Durham Technical Community College.
Jeff Tiberii
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper unveiled his first budget proposal on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at Durham Technical Community College.

Governor Roy Cooper is touting his first budget proposal as an ambitious plan to invest in education. The Democrat is proposing a 5.1 percent increase in spending, calling for the largest teacher raises in nearly a decade, and again recommending an expansion of Medicaid.

Cooper unveiled his proposed $23.4 billion fiscal blueprint at Durham Technical Community College on Wednesday.

“We are catching up with investments in education,” Cooper said at a news conference. “And we are catching up with investments in education all the way from birth through our community colleges and our universities.”

The Governor’s role in the budget process is largely symbolic, as Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the Legislature and will ultimately decide on appropriations.

Among the line items, Cooper is calling on lawmakers to expand funding for early childhood programs, set aside $300 million in savings, and provide state employees with a 2 percent raise.

The proposal would also grow teacher wages by 5 percent and principal pay by 6.5 percent. Cooper noted that his Republican counterparts have increased teacher pay in recent years.

“I like that fact that there seems to be some competition on who can raise teacher salaries the most. I hope they win. That’ll be great. Then we will have the teacher salary increases that we need,” he said.

The proposal for overall growth drew criticism from Republicans, who have grown the budget by about half that amount in recent years. Budgets from the House and Senate come out later this spring.

Other highlights from Cooper’s draft budget include:

  • $23.4 billion– Total budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins June 1st.
  • 5.1 percent  – Growth compared to the current budget.
  • 5 percent increase for teachers, 6.5 percent for principals and assistant principals, 2 percent for all state employees and a 1.5 percent one-time cost of living adjustment (C.O.L.A.) bump for retired state officials;
  • Investments of $25 million over the two-year biennium to increase supply of affordable housing across the state;
  • Allotments of $30 million to develop more efficient tax collection platform and fully fund efforts to combat fraud, malfeasance;
  • A $150 stipend for all public school teachers to use for classroom supplies.​
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