Governor Cooper unveiled his budget proposal for the next two years this week and it has many initiatives to benefit North Carolinians across the state. I want to highlight a handful of the proposed budget components that I find most promising and exciting.
Expanding Health Care
No single event has underscored the need for increased health care access than the worldwide pandemic. North Carolinians have been hit hard by the pandemic, and the effects have not been spread equally. The pandemic had an inordinate effect on people of color — a demographic less likely to have health insurance.
Medicaid expansion was the right decision before the pandemic; now, it’s a no-brainer. New incentives in the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Biden, would send billions of dollars to North Carolina. Expansion is the right decision for our state, both morally and fiscally. Governor Cooper understands, and now is the time to act. More than 600,000 North Carolinians stand to gain coverage when we expand Medicaid.
Investing in Education
Now that students are returning to in-person learning, we must take a deliberate step toward fully funding education in North Carolina. Every child in North Carolina deserves, and requires, a basic, sound education. That is our duty as legislators.
With the proposed budget from the governor, we take a massive step forward in achieving that goal. Part of the need is with teacher pay. During the last budget debate, the governor vetoed paltry raises that didn’t go far enough. With his current proposal, teachers would receive, on average, a 10% raise over the biennium.
The proposed budget also acknowledges that it takes more than just teachers to run a school. All non-certified personnel would receive a minimum of $15 an hour: teacher assistants, bus drivers, janitors — people who play an essential role in providing an education to our children.
More than $78 million would go toward early education and child development, acknowledging that a proper education starts from the cradle. An equal sum would also go to fund nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers to ensure the mental health of students is prioritized too.
Creating the Jobs of Tomorrow
Investing in clean energy is prudent both for our economy and for our environment. The governor’s proposed budget would inject more than $100 million into expanding access to clean energy technology and clean energy economic development. With a deliberate focus on clean investments, North Carolina can be a leader in Climate Change and how to create jobs that sustain our economy and our natural world. Investments in grants for clean energy start-ups can tap into homegrown talent, leveraging the array of leaders in tech and other spaces that the Research Triangle Park provides.
Strong, Resilient, Ready
The investments suggested by Governor Cooper would put North Carolina on strong footing as we enter a year full of hope for an end to the pandemic. When the coronavirus does subside, we will still be left with a growing state that has plenty of critical issues to address. This budget would go a long way in starting to address the needs of all North Carolinians.