Gov. Cooper’s state budget has been submitted. Here’s what Chatham’s representative thinks about it

Reives says plan makes ‘smart investments,’ is good starting point for negotiations

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Last Wednesday, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper released his recommended budget for FY 2022-23, a proposal he calls “Building on Success.” The $29.28 billion spending plan, according to the governor, “builds on the state’s success by investing in North Carolina families, businesses, and communities.”

The 232-page budget document can be found here: https://www.osbm.nc.gov/media/2569/open

“Families have returned to their lives of work and school after tremendous challenges but find that they still struggle to find affordable healthcare and childcare,” Cooper said upon releasing the budget. “North Carolina is emerging from the pandemic stronger than before, and we will sustain that only if we invest in a strong foundation for our people: A quality education, good jobs and infrastructure, and access to affordable healthcare. Let’s use this historic opportunity to give families, businesses and communities the tools they need to thrive.”

The News + Record asked Rep. Robert Reives II, a Goldston resident and N.C. House Minority Leader, for his perspective on the budget proposal. Reives, a Democrat, is the state’s Dist. 54 representative.

What’s your general impression of Gov. Cooper’s budget?

Gov. Cooper’s proposed budget makes smart investments at a time where North Carolinians need them most. The proposal builds upon some of the successes we have had and makes investments where they are needed most.

Raises for state employees will ensure that folks like teachers can afford to provide for their families. Investments in education will make certain that North Carolina lives up to its constitutional obligation to fully fund public schools. Expanding health care access will make certain that hard-working folks can get access to important medical treatment when they need it, without breaking the bank. We have an opportunity to invest in North Carolinians in a responsible way.

What do N.C. residents need to know about the budget? And the process?

Coupled with unappropriated money from the previous fiscal year and a revised revenue forecast, we have an opportunity to make important investments in North Carolina in a financially responsible way. This document outlines Gov. Cooper’s priorities for the short session budget. These proposals are a starting point for negotiations. I am optimistic that, based on our success in compromising on the big budget last year, we can iron out any differences and find a final document that nearly everyone will agree on.

Gov. Cooper has made education a priority. How will Republicans respond? And what parts of his education plan do you particularly like?

I can’t predict what Republicans will do, but what we should do is fully fund public education in North Carolina. We have had the resources to do it for years, but the half-measures are not enough.

Gov. Cooper’s budget fully funds public education by ensuring students have the resources they need and by paying educators a fair salary. I fully support the increased pay for educators, including restoring master’s pay, and for support staff. We have consistently been behind the curve in terms of educator pay for the last decade and it’s time to be an example for other states. I believe that having good teachers in every classroom is essential to providing our kids a great education.

We also know that it is vitally important for the development of a sound workforce. That means serious K-12 funding and post high school support. Our community colleges will be the most important cog in this machine for Chatham County and we need to pay community college educators and provide funding so they can make sure that local people can take advantage of these economic opportunities.

What happens next with the budget?

Leaders in the House and Senate will take a look at the proposed budget and work to see where there are areas of agreement and where there are disagreements. Republicans will either have an entirely different budget or will try to compromise on something the Governor will agree to, like we did last year. I will work with my caucus and Republican leaders to find a balance that everyone can agree to..

What role did you play in putting the budget together?

The budget proposed by Gov. Cooper was primarily compiled by his team and the Office of State Budget and Management. We have a budget team that we have put together to stay abreast of our caucus needs and priorities also. During this process our team leaders have opportunities to meet with the governor’s team members to make sure these needs are included and priorities are aligned. The priorities contained in it are consistent with the priorities of my caucus and me. My larger role comes when it is time for the legislature to produce a final product that includes as many of these priorities as we can get, because they represent an essential investment in North Carolina.

Give us brief feedback on some of these specific budget elements:

DPI funds ($20 million) to help students in crisis and provide mental health training:

Schools should be a safe place for children to grow and learn. To do that, we need to ensure their health and well-being. These funds will go a long way in providing that support and getting our kids the counseling they need to thrive.

$50 million for first-time home-buyers (for down payment assistance with enhanced help for eligible first-time homebuyers who are public school teachers, career firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, or sworn law enforcement officers):

Folks in Chatham know that housing affordability is top of mind right now as we continue to grow. I am glad to see the governor prioritizing this, because we know that local governments can only do so much. It has been a huge priority to me to help figure out how to make it possible for the people most essential to building and caring for our community are able to actually live here instead of just working here. There is no better example of how housing affordability impacts a community than when people like law enforcement officers and teachers cannot afford to live in the places they work. That is unsustainable and we have to do more to address it.

Expanded access to safe utilities ($20 million in drinking water/infrastructure grants):

Again, this is a place where the budget addresses an issue that is all too relevant for Chatham County. Water treatment plants and other infrastructure regarding water quality can be expensive, and like we see in Pittsboro, not always something that is the fault of a specific municipality. The state can and should step up to help fund projects like these because everyone deserves access to safe, clean water.

Workforce development:

North Carolina, and particularly our community and the ones around it, are experiencing tons of economic development. This is outstanding and we will reap long-term benefits from the expansion of companies like VinFast and Toyota in our backyards. But to ensure that we as a community are equipped for these jobs, workforce development is essential. The budget also includes large investments in our community colleges which are the backbone of local workforce development.

Pay increases for state employees/bonuses for teachers/educators:

For years, state employees and our educators have needed raises. They have received incremental bumps in pay but we are behind on paying them their full value. For educators and other school employees, counties can only bolster pay so much. I believe that investing in our state workforce is important to keep the best and brightest working on behalf of everyone to make a better North Carolina. Fundamentally, it is about respect. These folks work hard and deserve to be compensated for it.

Any other budget elements you’d like to speak about?

This budget also calls for expanding health care access to more than half a million North Carolinians. This is crucial, particularly after the last two years. Medical costs are out of hand and this is a simple step we can take to lower costs for folks on private insurance plans, to expand much needed medical access to rural areas, to ensure that rural areas have hospitals, and to make sure that we cover more people in an efficient way instead of paying for emergency room visits. It would also be a boon for our economy, creating jobs and keeping rural health care facilities afloat.

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