With No Proposal from Gov. Cooper, Budget Writers Making Plans on Upcoming Session

Two months into fiscal year, Gov. Cooper still hasn’t submitted a budget request

Senate budget writers announce their focus will be education, unemployment, child care, broadband

Legislators: Budget request from Cooper pointless now that session is less than two weeks away

Raleigh, N.C. — Senate budget writers today announced they’re finalizing plans on proposals for the upcoming legislative session, which begins on Sept. 2 and is expected to last two days. The budget chairs will be speaking with their Senate and House colleagues. They’re eager to work with the House to move swiftly upon their return.

According to the budget writers, funding proposals to the full legislature will focus on education, unemployment, child care, and broadband.

Proposals that budget writers, committee chairs, and interested senators could make decisions on in the coming days may include:

· Increasing the state’s maximum unemployment assistance payment;

· Easing some regulations on day care facilities to help meet the overwhelming demand for child care;

· Increasing the eligibility thresholds for Opportunity Scholarships, which provides funding for at-risk children to attend the school of their choice;

· Improving COVID health care access;

· Improving access to rural broadband;

· Other potential items.

In previous years, Gov. Roy Cooper has submitted a formal budget proposal to the legislature months before the beginning of a new fiscal year. In 2018, he submitted his proposal in May; in 2019, he submitted his proposal in March.

It’s now August. This fiscal year started on July 1, and Gov. Cooper still hasn’t submitted a budget proposal.

In a joint statement, Senate budget chairs Harry Brown (R-Onslow), Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston), and Brent Jackson (R-Sampson) said, “Proposing budgets when the state is flush is easy, but making tough calls during a recession is what demands real leadership. Gov. Cooper hasn’t bothered with a budget proposal this year, and we’re moving ahead with final plans on what to propose to the full legislature. A budget proposal from the Governor the week before we come into session is pointless.”

Unemployment Assistance

Notwithstanding the over-the-top rhetoric from Democrats, North Carolina’s average weekly unemployment benefit actually ranks in the middle of the pack for southeastern states.

When adjusted for cost-of-living, it is equal to California’s average unemployment benefit.

Budget writers are running numbers now on how much to increase North Carolina’s maximum unemployment benefit. North Carolina has one of the healthiest unemployment reserves in the country because of smart budgeting during the boom years. Budget writers must balance the desire for a higher maximum benefit with how long the Unemployment Trust Fund can sustain the higher benefits before going empty.

Child Care

Gov. Cooper’s refusal to allow parents the option of full-time, in-person instruction has created massive demand for child care. In some parts of the state, demand far exceeds supply. Some state regulations make it more difficult and time-intensive to open a child care facility, so legislators are reviewing the regulations to see if and how some can be rolled back to meet the unprecedented need.

Opportunity Scholarships

There is near-consensus opinion among medical and education experts that keeping children out of the classroom is harmful, especially to at-risk students. Public health authorities, including the CDC, have been sounding the alarm about the severe consequences of prohibiting children from getting in-person classroom instruction.

A group of Harvard public health experts wrote last month that preventing students from learning in the classroom “will be an educational disaster that some children may never recover from.”

Opportunity Scholarships provide funding for low- and middle-income families to attend the school of their choice. With public schools completely closed in many parts of the state, the Opportunity Scholarship is the only pathway to in-person learning for some families.