North Carolina Needs a Better Budget
It has been over a month since the start of the new fiscal year on July 1st and North Carolina still does not have a budget. More than four weeks have passed since Gov. Cooper offered a compromise proposal to replace the Republican budget that he vetoed because it prioritized corporate tax cuts over schools and children and did not expand health care coverage to so many in our state who lack it. Since then, Republican leaders have refused to negotiate and develop a budget that will move our state forward and treat all of our citizens fairly. Instead, they have embarked on a concerted campaign using op-eds in newspapers around the state to create a false and blatantly misleading narrative that completely ignores the fact that Gov. Cooper’s budget does more for education, economic development, job creation, and health care than theirs does.
We have seen a bevvy of op-eds that make false claims. Sen Rick Gunn (R-Alamance) claims that if the veto is not overridden, state employees and teachers could be at risk for missing out on raises. In fact, Gov. Cooper’s budget matched the Republicans’ five percent state employee salary increase and increases teacher pay by 8.5 percent, more than double the 3.9 percent passed by the Republicans. Further, what Sen. Gunn doesn’t say is that the Republican’s budget would only give about a quarter of state employees the promised raise, while non-certified school personnel and community college employees would get a paltry two percent and UNC employees an unbelievable one percent. In contrast, the Governor’s budget more than doubles the raise provided to non-certified school employees, and gives a raise five times as large to all UNC employees. The only risk here is that people will believe the Republican’s misleading statements.
The Republican plan for school construction also falls short of Gov. Cooper’s proposal. Gunn crows that their budget provides some $29 million in capital funding for K-12 schools in Guilford County while conveniently ignoring the fact that Gov. Cooper’s budget provides $49 million. Similarly, in Orange County, the Republicans have proposed only $15.1 million versus Gov. Cooper’s proposal of $20.3 million. In Caswell County, it’s Republicans $11.3 million, Gov. Cooper $12.6. And it’s no different across the whole state. Gov. Cooper’s budget simply supports schools and children better.
Rep. Chris Humphrey (R-Pitt) falsely claims that projects like ECU’s new Brody School of Medicine and infrastructure improvements for schools in Lenoir County won’t be funded. In fact Gov. Cooper’s proposed budget fully funds Brody and provides $18 million for Lenoir County school infrastructure. In fact, Gov. Cooper’s budget funds all of the local projects in the Republican’s budget.
Rep. Humphrey also hails the Republican budget for all of its investments in education, infrastructure, and economic development. What he conveniently ignores is that it also gives $300 million in tax breaks to corporations through 2021. The majority of the Republicans’ so-called “income tax relief” will go to businesses not to the hard-working families that need it most. Gov. Cooper’s budget eliminates these corporate giveaways.
The Republicans are using the same dishonest tactics to demonize Gov. Cooper’s health care efforts. Sen. Gunn says that, “Gov. Cooper is playing a dangerous game of chicken with the lives of millions of North Carolinians across the state.” This is patently absurd and disingenuous coming from a party that refuses to even consider Medicaid expansion, which would bring affordable health care coverage to over 500,000 of our fellow North Carolinians, create tens of thousands of good paying jobs, and add millions of dollars of economic activity — all at no additional cost to taxpayers. In Guilford County alone — which Gunn represents — Medicaid expansion would add over 35,000 newly insured, about 2,700 new jobs, and $682 million to their economy. In Orange County there would be over 7,000 newly insureds, 629 new jobs, and $141.3 million added to the local economy. For Caswell County, the figures are almost 1,400 newly covered, 38 jobs, and $5.1 million added to the local economy.
Sen.Bill Rabon (R-New Hanover) argues that without a budget New Hanover County will miss out on funds to address the opioid epidemic. What he conveniently omits is that it’s the Republicans keeping us from having a budget and that Medicaid is by far the most effective way to combat the opioid epidemic. About half of the overdose survivors taken to emergency rooms in our state in 2017 were uninsured. Medicaid expansion would provide access to care for more than 150,000 of our fellow residents that struggle with substance abuse or mental health disorders.
Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Duplin) affects concern that without an override our veterans will miss out on care that they need, such as military family counseling and veterans health care. As it happens, Medicaid will help our veterans too. According to a 2017 RAND report, states that expanded Medicaid demonstrated the largest growth in insured veterans, especially the elderly or those with low incomes. In Kentucky, for example, after expansion the number of veterans covered by Medicaid increased by 65 percent. As of 2017, there are 30,000 uninsured veterans and 23,000 uninsured spouses and children in North Carolina. These are our friends and neighbors and we cannot afford to waste any more time providing them access to the affordable, quality health care that they need.
So yes, there’s a lot at risk in our budget battle. But the risk lies in not holding firm and supporting the Governor in his fight to better the lives of everyday North Carolinians. We have the opportunity to come together as good stewards of our tax dollars and draft a budget that moves us in the direction of helping each other. It is crystal clear that Gov. Cooper’s budget does so much more for our children and the schools that they attend than the Republicans’ proposals. It does more for our working families and their pocketbooks. And it does more to get over 500,000 uninsured friends and neighbors the health care they need and deserve. Gov. Cooper has offered a real plan and Democrats in the General Assembly are ready to work with him and our Republican colleagues to pass a budget that is good for North Carolina. If the Republicans are so worried about what’s at risk, they should get on board.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.