Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday that he plans to veto the $23 billion state budget that lawmakers passed last week, calling it "short sighted and small minded."
Cooper acknowledged that Republican legislative leaders have enough votes to override his veto, but he said he hopes to sway some moderate GOP lawmakers to uphold his veto and prompt negotiations on education funding and other issues.
"We need a budget that enables the big dreams of our people," Cooper said at a news conference. "We need a budget that helps us meet the potential of our state. Unfortunately, what the legislature passed and sent to me is not that budget."
Education funding is the biggest gripe the governor said he has with the budget, which he said "doesn't even come close" to funding his plan to raise average teacher salaries in North Carolina to the national average in five years. Although the budget includes what lawmakers have said is a 9.5 percent average increase over the next two years, Cooper called their plan a "budget gimmick mirage" that leaves out beginning and the most veteran teachers.
He also criticized lawmakers' decision to omit his proposed stipend for teachers to help buy classroom supplies, a lack of funding for teaching assistants, school nurses and school counselors and shifting more money into the Opportunity Scholarships private school voucher program.
"Teachers see through dishonest budget gimmicks," Cooper said as he was surrounded by a group of teachers at the Executive Mansion.
Brian Link, who has taught civics and economics for seven years at East Chapel Hill High School, is slated to get a $2,000 bump under the proposed budget, but he still opposes it.
"It gives tax cuts, not textbooks," Link said. "I think it's important to understand that, when teachers speak up, we’re speaking up on behalf of our kids."
Republican leaders last week dared Cooper to veto the budget, saying it meets several of his stated spending priorities while suggesting the governor is more interested in political posturing.
"By rejecting our fourth consecutive teacher pay raise – this time totaling 10 percent on average – a major middle-class tax cut and much-needed Hurricane Matthew relief, Gov. Cooper has broken some of his biggest promises to the voters, and they will hold him accountable. We will too, by quickly overriding his veto," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said Monday in a joint statement.
Cooper said there are portions of the budget he supports, such as the renewal of the Teaching Fellows program, raises for principals, expanded access to pre-kindergarten programs – he said he would have expanded it more – incentives for business recruitment.
"On balance, it's not the direction I envision for our state. Simply put, this budget shortchanges our state at a time when it doesn't have to," he said. "It prioritizes tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and comes up short for education and the economy."
The budget calls for lowering the individual and corporate income tax rates in 2019, raising the standard deduction and some other changes. Cooper said those moves would "blow a $600 million hole in our budget" within a few years.
The governor said he would sign the budget if the following changes are made:
- The corporate tax cut is eliminated, the individual tax cut is limited to people making less than $150,000 a year and lawmakers add in a childcare tax credit.
- Teacher pay raises are "fully funded," including starting teachers and veteran educators, and more money is earmarked for school support personnel and classroom supplies.
- Include money for expanding broadband internet access to rural areas.
- Phase out the Opportunity Scholarships program.
"This list doesn't come close to covering all the concerns I have with this budget," he said, "but the changes that I propose today would reflect more of the vision that this state demands."
"It's disappointing that the governor chose to do this," Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said. "I feel certain the people will be disappointed, and we’ll have to do our job, override that veto and pass this budget."
If lawmakers override the veto, Cooper said, he will take what positives he can from the budget and "work to fight another battle on another day," notably Election Day in 2018.
"If they do push the budget through, we'll be taking our case to the people," he said.