Viewpoint: Gov. Cooper is wrong about the state budget

Posted at 11:41 AM on Aug 6, 2019

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BY REP. JOHN FRALEY

Gov. Roy Cooper has called the budget, which was passed by a bipartisan vote in the N.C. House and Senate, “an astonishing failure of common sense and common decency." I simply cannot disagree more. What we really have is a distinct difference of opinion on responsible and sustainable levels of spending the taxpayers’ money and how we manage health care in our state.

Let’s talk about spending first. When the Republicans took the majority in the Legislature in 2011, our state was facing billions in debt and deficits due to unsustainable and undisciplined policies of over-spending and taxation.

We immediately went to work and set out a plan. We balanced our budgets and reduced the tax burden while increasing spending at a responsible rate. This has led to strong annual investment increases in education, transportation and health care, as well as reductions in personal and corporate taxes, and a historic rainy day savings fund.

Additionally, unemployment is at record lows and wages have steadily increased. This is a disciplined and balanced approach to budgeting and a track record worthy of continuing. The budget passed by the Legislature, but vetoed by the governor, maintains this approach.

While the governor’s big promises of more spending may sound nice, they are simply not sustainable or responsible. We have seen where these undisciplined tax-and-spend policies get us – less jobs, high unemployment, and more layoffs of teachers and other state employees.

By comparison, when the hurricanes hit North Carolina, rainy day savings and disciplined spending enabled the state to appropriate $850 million for disaster relief without any layoffs, tax increases or budget cuts. So it comes down to a choice, do you go back to the failed policies of the past or continue taking a responsible, disciplined approach to spending that has been working? I chose the latter.

The primary issue Gov. Cooper has with the Legislative budget is it does not include Medicaid expansion. The governor wants full-blown Medicaid expansion to all for free. In the House, there is a NC Cares bill that provides coverage for able-bodied individuals, but it requires them to work and pay a minimal premium.

There are also competing ideas between the State Treasurer and healthcare professionals in the Legislature about hospital reimbursements. The state is just beginning to transition to a managed-care health system to better control costs. Many rural hospitals face severe financial hurdles due to the number of patients they must serve with little or no payment. Services like tele-medicine or expanded nursing responsibilities should be studied to reduce medical costs and bring down the cost of insurance. We also need to educate, train and retain more doctors and nurses to meet the needs of our growing state.

The point here is we have a complex, inter-related healthcare issue to address, not just a Medicaid expansion issue. It just does not make sense for the governor to hold up the entire state budget because he wants Medicaid expansion rather than having this be part of a larger healthcare discussion in a special session the Legislature has proposed.

Finally, we should be aware of what the governor’s demand for Medicaid expansion is holding up due to his veto of the $24 billion budget. Here’s just a sampling:

• $4.4 billion for statewide school construction (includes $13 million Iredell-Statesville Schools, $3.8 million for Mooresville Graded Schools, and $3.4 million for Mitchell Community College.)
• $1.43 billion in education funding over the two years
• 3.9 percent teacher raise over the biennium (this is the sixth consecutive raise for teachers)
• State employee raises of 5 percent over the biennium
• 1 percent retiree supplement
• $150 million over 10 years for rural broadband
• $711 million to the state rainy day fund
• Increase in the standard tax deduction from $20,000 to $21,000 (up $15,000 since Republicans have written the budget)
• 43 new state and local parks
• $39 million to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund

It’s time for Gov. Cooper to stop holding up the entire budget for one single policy issue. Let’s have a separate session entirely dedicated to improving health care. The people of North Carolina deserve an honest and transparent debate on this issue.

John Fraley represents the 95th District 95 in the N.C. House of Representatives.

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