Republicans call for Cooper to get on board

Governors plan spends $600 million more than Senates, prompting public criticism from both sides

Madeline Gray—
Rep. John Szoka (R- Cumberland) discusses the Republican-led General Assembly's economic strategy with members of the media.

RALEIGH — N.C. lawmakers called a press conference this week saying they want to set the record straight on their plan of tax cuts and economic development. They criticized Gov. Roy Cooper’s efforts this week to paint the legislature’s tax plans as millionaire handouts. During a Wednesday press conference Reps. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg), Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), and John Szoka (R-Cumberland) called out Cooper’s media campaign, saying Republican handling of the N.C. economy has yielded results, pointing specifically to state’s job growth and the increase of the standard deduction from $17,500 to $20,000. This increases the amount of income that would be exempt from state taxes. The Senate says it adds up to nearly $1 billion in tax cuts and means 99 percent of taxpayers either pay less personal income tax or none at all.”We are accused of not caring about people who earn less, we are accused about passing tax cuts only for the rich and the millionaires. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Szoka. “The governor has resorted to double-speak trying to confuse North Carolinians on the positive impacts of our tax reform. … We have shown by what we’ve done and by results that we’ve achieved that we are committed to helping the economic life of all North Carolinians no matter how much they make or what type of job they have,” added Szoka. “We are here to help the whole state of N.C. and in our commitment to continuing tax reform that further helps our citizens, I call on Gov. Cooper to stop the double speak and get on board.”Cooper’s office has been taking to social media to criticize the Senate’s proposed reduction of the state individual and corporate income tax, calling it a corporate “giveaway,” and its final numbers that spend about $600 million less than Cooper wanted. “Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have prioritized yet another massive tax giveaway for corporations and the wealthiest that would give millionaires a tax cut 60 times larger than middle-class families,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter reportedly wrote in a statement to ABC11, a local Raleigh television station. “Their plan blows a $600 million hole in our budget, which wrecks our ability to invest in education, disaster recovery and other priorities. Those are not the right priorities for our state.” Brawley was an original sponsor of the JDIG program that provided a $40 million grant to Credit Suisse in an expansion of 1,200 jobs. Cooper announced the growth earlier this week. He said that while he’s glad Cooper is using the program, the governor’s simultaneous criticism of tax cuts is politically precarious. “We would hope that we could get past the politics. This isn’t campaign season for any of us. Let’s work on good policy for the state to benefit our people,” Brawley said while explaining the JDIG program.”It could be called a corporate giveaway, but to those 1,400 people who will get those high-paying jobs it’s a blessing,” added Brawley. “They don’t care what you call it, they got a nice job. That JDIG program that the governor is using is the grant we passed. And while he’s called it corporate giveaways in the past, I’m glad to see his change of attitude and that he’s willing to use it to bring jobs to North Carolina.”The press conference comes the same week that the Senate released its proposed state budget and the House plans their own. The two versions will be reconciled in committee with a final version presented to the governor for approval. The Senate increased spending by 2.5 percent in its budget with an additional $600 million in spending on education and the second of a three-year plan to raise teacher salaries, a priority that the House, Senate and governor have all agreed on in principle. “We certainly like their tax package,” said Saine. “It brings forth a number of ideas. Where we go from here in this budget negation process, who knows — probably somewhere in the middle. We think they have some great ideas and we think we have some great ideas.”The reality is what we are doing is working,” added Saine. “We certainly want to stay on that path. As we go through this budget negotiation process we are going to fund the things that we need to — teachers, schools, all the things that the budget does fund. But we are going to do it in a reasonable way. We’ll get through negotiations and find a happy place to move the ball forward.”Cooper released his budget recommendations in March which increased state spending by 5 percent to $23.5 billion the first year of the biennium and $24 billion in the second year. Porter, from Cooper’s communications office, reportedly released to some media outlets a list of Cooper’s priority spending items that did not make the Senate plan, including a child care tax credit, $20 million for free community college for certain students, and $150 state stipend for teachers to purchase classroom supplies.”Republicans inherited a $2.5 billion deficit after decades of liberal tax-and-spend policy that was promoted by others, including our now Gov. Roy Cooper when he was in the North Carolina General Assembly,” said Szoka. “Since then the House and Senate Republicans have made very tough decisions to put North Carolina’s fiscal house back in order. I will tell you that the results speak for themselves.”Republicans point to the now $580 million budget surplus and as one of those results, while Cooper points to a new study out from the National Education Association, the lobbying group for public schools, that puts N.C. at No. 42 in a state list of per-pupil education spending. Retired state employees were also lobbying at the General Assembly this week calling for a cost of living increase in their retirement benefits, as lawmakers look toward negotiating a final budget proposal.”North Carolina has a diverse population, and we are going to take all those concerns into consideration as we move forward,” said Saine.