COVID relief, teacher bonuses, aid for local governments highlight Cooper’s budget blueprint

A week before members of the General Assembly return to Raleigh for the next legislative session, Governor Roy Cooper rolled out his recommended budget proposal Wednesday.

Top-line items include:

  • $175 million for critical public health services including: $25 million for testing and tracing; $50 million to target rural and historically marginalized populations; and $40 million for early childhood services
  • $49 million to build a state strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • $132 million to help K-12 public schools to protect students, teachers and staff and ensure students most impacted by COVID-19 receive support
  • $200 million in aid for local governments
  • $50 million to establish an emergency grant program to expand high-speed internet access
  • $27.5 million to combine with other funds to create a $50 million relief program to support NC businesses with rent, mortgage and utility relief
  • $18 million to combine with other funds to create a $33 million grant program for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) that have been left out of other support programs
  • $25 million to provide equipment for health care and first responder workforce programs at community colleges to continue the state’s pipeline of necessary, qualified workers
  • $25 million to research obstacles to reliable, rapid COVID-19 testing
  • $50 million in direct aid to food banks, emergency feeding organizations, and community organizations for food and nutrition assistance

The governor said non-recurring money in the General Fund will also allow for the following one-time bonuses:

  • $2,000 to K-12 public school teachers, instructional support personnel, principals and assistant principals
  • A one-time $1,000 bonus to K-12 non-certified public school personnel and
  • A one-time $1,500 bonus to UNC System and NC Community College System personnel

Cooper’s budget plan would also pull back $85 million set aside for Opportunity Scholarships that has gone unused.

Republican legislative leaders, who have indicated the session that convenes September 2nd could last just a few days, were quick to dismiss the governor’s proposal with the following from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s office:

In a joint statement, Senate budget writers Sens. Harry Brown (R-Onslow), Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston), and Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) said, “This ‘spend now, pray later’ budget strategy resulted in teacher salary cuts and layoffs when the last Democratic governor tried it. The Governor is ignoring warnings from nonpartisan budget experts so he can produce a four-months-late budget proposal that reads more like a prop from an episode of ‘Veep.’”

Cooper told reporters Wednesday afternoon that at a time with so many families  struggling, he would hope lawmakers could set aside the partisan politics that defined the last legislative session.

“This should be really easy. I think you have to look at this point in time as different from last year. Yeah we were having disputes over Medicaid expansion, but then a pandemic happened. And now a lot of people are hurting, and we are fighting for every federal dollar we can get.”

Read the governor’s full budget recommendation here.

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COVID relief, teacher bonuses, aid for local governments highlight Cooper’s budget blueprint