Tomorrow, Gov. Cooper is set to release his budget proposal for the next two fiscal years. At a news conference today, Cooper previewed his budget by revealing the highlights of the education section.
Although we haven’t seen the full budget yet, initial reports suggest that, as expected, Cooper is using his proposal to set a high-water mark against which he and his progressive allies can claim that conservative leaders in the General Assembly will never measure up.
According to WRAL and EdNC Reporter Rupen Fofaria, Cooper’s budget will contain a 9.1 percent teacher pay raise and a $3.9 billion bond. The astronomical teacher pay raise proposal is no surprise, and Cooper has made no secret that he wants a bond for school construction.
However, just last year, Cooper was calling for “only” a $2 billion bond. Does anyone believe that the needs of our state increased almost $2 billion in one year? Why the sudden dramatic increase? The answer is simple: political gain.
Despite a reasonable pay-as-you-go proposal from the state Senate, leadership in the NC House – namely, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) – has toured the state championing the governor’s previous $1.9 billion bond. Just today, the House proposal passed a crucial committee.
So what does Cooper do? He raises the stakes. Now, even if the legislature passes a fiscally irresponsible $1.9 billion bond, Cooper can still villainize the Republican leadership and glorify himself as someone who would’ve done more to help the children. It is pure partisan grandstanding with little regard for good policy.
The Left has revealed their hand on this one, with a conveniently timed report released today from the NC Justice Center on why the Senate and House proposals for school construction “fall short.” Again, this is despite the fact that Cooper originally proposed a bond very similar to the current House proposal.
November’s election shifted the power dynamic in Raleigh. Republicans retain majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, but no longer have the supermajority margins needed to overturn vetoes by the governor, a Democrat.
Under this new reality, everyone has accepted that this year’s budget negotiation will likely be an ugly political debacle. Cooper has a lot to prove going into his 2020 reelection bid, and today he demonstrated that he is going to use every trick in the book.
Conservatives in the General Assembly should keep their focus on doing what is best for North Carolina. Cooper has proved that he is going to play to emotions rather than doing what is actually in the best interest of the state. If Republicans try to play by his rules, they will lose every time. As long as progressives remain in the minority party of the legislature, they can always outbid the majority party without being held accountable for the fiscal ramifications of their proposals.
Instead, fiscal conservatives must change the rules of the game. Let’s shift the conversation to return on investment, instead of obsessing over inputs. Education spending has become a sacred cow in North Carolina politics. No one is suggesting that funding isn’t important, but a basics economics course will tell you that every additional dollar we throw at a problem will matter less than the one before it.
Instead, the focus should be on substantive policy reforms can give teachers and administrators more flexibility and autonomy. The Left frames teacher pay as a “teacher respect” issue – but if we really want to respect teachers, we will acknowledge their professionalism by allowing them to do their jobs with less burdensome regulations and creating a system that allows us to pay teachers what they are worth.