Editorial: Budget choice - Legislature's pothole patching or Governor's expressway to future

Posted August 27, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2020 6:02 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020; Editorial #8579
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

The contrast is stark: One is limited and dark. The other is optimistic and vivid.

The General Assembly’s leadership – particularly the Phil Berger-led Senate – offers a spending plan that hardly fills a pothole mostly is of their own creation. It fails to fully deal with the deep financial crisis and the unprecedented health pandemic we now confront.

Gov. Roy Cooper offers a spending plan by comparison that does more than merely fully repair the road. It provides an expressway to the future when the crisis passes. The budget adjustments he proposed – none of the items are big surprises nor ideas that require extensive examination – don’t just help those most in need today with economic, education and health support.

It offers up critical investments for now and the future – funds much needed for: Disaster recovery; Expanding Medicaid now; Properly funding our public schools and higher education institutions; Focusing on economic development opportunities, Advancing health care research and services, Improving worker benefits; and Expanding infrastructure – so the state will be poised to move ahead when the current crisis has passed.

The latest outline of legislative budget plans, as offered up in an election-year focused partisan news release from Berger’s office, fails to adequately address the areas it mentioned nor fully deal with North Carolina’s most urgent needs.

It’s fine to promise to address inadequate unemployment assistance payments; health care access amid the current COVID-19 pandemic and improve broadband access in rural and under-served areas. But let’s be honest here.

The depth of North Carolina’s desperate needs in these areas now are mostly the fault of legislators’ purposeful decisions NOT to deal with them or simply through chronic neglect. They planted the seeds of today’s bitter harvest.

  • It is the General Assembly and former Gov. Pat McCrory who enacted the nation’s stingiest unemployment benefits to grant an unnecessary tax cut to corporations.
  • It is the General Assembly that has limited access to health care by its mean-spirited refusal to extend Medicaid to more than a half-million deserving citizens.
  • It is the General Assembly that sided with the big telecommunication providers and enacted laws that made it more difficult and expensive to extend broadband access into rural and underserved communities.

Rest assured the inadequate remedies they offer up seek more to address their own ideological prejudices than fix the problems that so many North Carolinians deservedly need help to address. Gov. Roy Cooper offers a comprehensive plan to get the state back on track AND builds for the future.

As for the state Senate’s proposals, it is what was NOT mentioned that most needs focus. And that is where Cooper’s plan doesn’t merely patch the legislature’s pothole – it builds the expressway.

The Senate’s plan doesn’t address public schools – and only looks to expand eligibility for the state’s misguided private school voucher programs -- throwing more good money after the millions already being spent with inadequate accountability and transparency.

Cooper proposes pay bonuses for teachers, professors education administrators and staff. He wants to make the first $50-million down payment on the Leandro plan to meet the state’s constitutional obligation to provide EVERY child with the opportunity for a quality education. It includes (among other items) increasing school support services for those students in greatest need along with expanding the Teaching Fellows program.

The budget does not make any changes in funding for local schools – and the legislature should avoid making any changes to the average daily attendance formula – so schools, too – are fully ready when the pandemic subsides. To do otherwise risks massive teacher layoffs. Public schools MUST be in a position to immediately serve ALL their students.

While the legislature offers a band-aid solution to the state’s inadequate unemployment benefits system, Cooper has offered a comprehensive reform that will move benefits from worst in the nation to at least average – increasing weekly benefits and allowing the duration to increase from the fewest in the nation – 12 weeks to 24 weeks.

Cooper recognizes that interest rates are at an all-time low. There is no better time to move ahead with bond issues to help with health care infrastructure, provide much-needed facilities for local schools, community colleges and universities, help communities upgrade and expand water and sewer services and provide for housing expansion.

Cooper has offered a fiscally sound and reasonable plan that will move North Carolina ahead. Legislators should abandon their pothole repair and recognize the real opportunity is to build a superhighway to the future.

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