Difference between current continuation budget and Cooper's own proposals are not large

Published March 12, 2020

By Brian Balfour

Contrary to what many on Jones street – or breathless capital news reporters – would have you believe, there really is very little difference between Gov. Cooper’s FY 2019-20 budget proposal, the legislatively-approved budget vetoed by Cooper, and the “unofficial” spending plan currently being executed.

Criticizing the Republican budget for misplaced priorities, Gov. Cooper vetoed the legislatively-approved state budget bill last summer. In September, the House garnered the votes to override the veto, but the Senate failed to do the same.

But as a result of a provision in the 2016 budget bill, North Carolina state government is in no danger of a “shutdown” if a state budget has not been approved before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1st. Instead, state spending continues at the previous year’s budget level.

Last summer and fall, several ‘mini-budgets’ were passed, along with legislation making further adjustments to state agency baseline budgets, so in reality, state government does have a spending plan in place.

Indeed, the current spending plan, serving in place of an official state budget, will spend 96.9 percent of the amount proposed by Gov. Cooper. The largest difference being that Cooper’s proposal included average teacher raises of 9.1 percent over two years, and hundreds of millions additional dollars to pay for it. The current spending plan does not – because Cooper vetoed a separate bill approved by legislators that would have included an average teacher pay raise of 3.9 percent. If Cooper hadn’t rejected the legislature’s teacher pay proposal, the current spending plan would be close to 98 percent of Cooper’s proposed budget.

Moreover, the current plan is slated to spend 98.7 percent of the amount included in the legislative budget vetoed by Cooper.

Interestingly, the budget vetoed by Cooper was scheduled to spend 98.1 percent of what Cooper himself proposed.

The current plan also represents an increase of 2.1 percent over last year’s approved budget, a spending increase of just over $500 million dollars.

Indeed, halfway through the current fiscal year, state General Fund expenditures are outpacing last year’s appropriations by 3 percent, according to State Controller monthly expenditure reports (actual expenditures last year were less than budgeted appropriations).[i]

All things considered, there is very little difference in the total amount of state spending between the current continuation spending plan and Cooper’s own budget proposal.  The slim differences scarcely justify the amount of complaints coming from the legislative minority and Gov. Cooper’s office.