Republican state lawmakers are touting their final budget plan, which they say cuts taxes, provides teacher raises, and grows government spending by about 3 percent. Critics, including Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, say the plan fails to keep up with the growth of population and inflation.
This budget is a compromise between spending plans passed by the House and the Senate. Legislative leaders held a Monday evening press conference to unveil highlights of the spending plan, a complete version of which is expected to be posted online late Monday. Some top-line issues include:
- $530 million in projected tax cuts
- This plan increases the standard deduction from $17,500 to $20,000 annually for married couples filing jointly. It also grows the zero-tax bracket for other filers.
- The individual income tax rate would drop from 5.499 to 5.25 while the corporate rate lowers from 3 percent to 2.5 percent. Both of those changes go into effect in 2019.
- An average 3.3 percent raise for teachers. The pay-scale was not immediately released by legislators.
- A 1 percent cost of living adjustment for state retirees
- A $1,000 bonus for state employees
The complete budget also includes $360 million for the state’s rainy day fund, $100 million in funding to support rural schools, and language to “Raise the Age” – a change to the criminal justice system that would mean 16 and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically tried as adults.
There is also funding for the Governor’s school, the Wright School in Durham, and the UNC Law School would lose only a small portion of its budget. All of those outlets had faced possible drastic cuts.
“One of our goals is continuing to raise average teacher pay, and under this plan by 2020, average teacher pay would be 55-thousand dollars. That’s tremendous,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said.
Republican Senate budget writer Harry Brown said the GOP has grown starting teacher pay, from $30,000 to $35,000 in recent years.
“Look at the investment we’ve made in teachers over the past three-four years; a teacher three years ago took 30-something to get to the top of their pay scale. Our plan will get them to the top of their pay scale in 15 years,” Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow) said.
Lawmakers are expected to give approval to this budget by the end of the week and then send it to Governor Roy Cooper. Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger says the plan invests generously in public schools, sets money aside in the "Rainy Day Fund", and helps to rebuild following Hurricane Matthew, all areas that Cooper says are a priority.
“So today we call on Governor Cooper to support this plan that achieves what he has said are important priorities for our state,” Berger (R-Rockingham) told a roomful of reporters.
However, Cooper’s administration quickly criticized the proposal.
Ford Porter, spokesman for Governor Roy Cooper, released the following statement in response to the Republican budget outline:
"While we wait for details, the budget outlined by legislative leaders continues to shortchange education, economic development, and middle class families in favor of more tax giveaways that help the wealthy and large corporations. Those are the wrong priorities."
The full budget is expected to be released late Monday night. Lawmakers will cast votes later this week and the plan then goes to the Governor. He can sign, veto, or let the budget go into effect without his signature.