Cooper’s budget offers a better vision than the House and Senate plans

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper cseward@newsobserver.com

If the competition over the state budget were a foot race, Gov. Roy Cooper would leave House and Senate Republicans in the dust.

The House version now before the public only underlines the differences in vision between the Senate, House and governor’s budgets. Or rather: The governor’s budget has vision, something that cannot be said of those of either the House or the Senate, where the budget process is run by Republicans obsessed with tax cuts mostly benefiting the wealthy.

Consider some pertinent comparisons, as noted by Cooper’s office:

Cooper increased education spending in the coming year by $755 million; the House and Senate weakly approved half that much.

Cooper wants $20 million in extra funding for additional teaching assistants, nursing staff and support personnel. The House and Senate? Nothing additional.

Cooper wants $15 million to help teachers with their own out-of-pocket expenses. The House and Senate? Nothing. This is one of the great hidden costs for all public school teachers, most of whom spent a couple of hundred dollars a year of their own money on classroom supplies.

The governor is seeking close to $200 million in critically needed funding for community colleges over the next two years. The Republicans? A fraction of that.

Ah, but the GOP leaders are generous indeed when it comes to spending taxpayers’ dollars to fund tuition money for private schools through their voucher program. They’ll boost that funding by $30 million over the next two years. Cooper is right in this case to seek nothing and reduce the funding for this ill-conceived program.

And these are select educational appropriations – or as the Republican proposals might be called, more starvation for public education.

The budget versions are similar in comparing other priorities, meaning that Cooper’s budget is forward-looking, progressive and seems to help average working families while Republicans stay focused on the wealthy.

Cooper is looking at $5 million for efforts to help small towns redevelop their downtown business districts. Republicans are willing to give just a fraction of that.

Cooper wants to restore a child-care tax credit. Republicans say no.

Cooper wants to revitalize the program that gave filmmakers a generous tax incentive to make movies, commercials and television shows in North Carolina. The program was spectacularly successful, but Republicans in effect killed it and then came up with a grant program that isn’t working. This is one of the better examples of how GOP shortsightedness and partisanship cost the state jobs and revenue.

The best thing that can be said about the House budget is that it isn’t as bad as the Senate budget in terms of tax cuts. Republicans continue to govern as if the recession were still where it was in 2009. They pump money into a rainy-day fund while failing to do enough for those affected by Hurricane Matthew. They shortchange public schools and teachers, and their raises for state employees and teachers are paltry.

They have no vision. That’s hurt the state, particularly since GOP leaders in the General Assembly treated former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory as if he didn’t exist, and he dared not disagree with them.

Their problem now is that the new occupant of the governor’s office is a former legislator and attorney general, a son of rural, small-town North Carolina who knows what an enlightened state government can do for people. And that’s what he wants – to do for people. Republican leaders want to do for people, too – rich people and those in big business, through attempting to weaken public education, shortchange state workers, curb environmental regulation and do little or nothing to improve social services such as health care.

The competing budgets tell the story. Only there’s no real competition here.