GREENSBORO — North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's two-year budget would seek to borrow twice as much as state House Republicans are proposing in their respective proposed construction bond referendums.
Cooper pitched the borrowing and several other education-related parts of his spending proposal on Tuesday at a conference in Greensboro. They include raises for all public school teachers, restoring a pay bump for teachers with master's degrees and providing tens of millions of dollars toward school safety and health staff and improvements.
Cooper's full budget proposal through mid-2021 comes out Wednesday.
"Public education is our most important job as a state, and we must do better," Cooper said in a release. "Better pay for educators, safe, modern school buildings and opportunities for students to learn and stay healthy are critical to our state's future and we must invest in them."
The $3.9 billion debt package sought by Cooper — if approved by voters in 2020 — would include $2 billion for public schools and $500 million each for the community college and UNC systems. Other proceeds would benefit water systems, the North Carolina Zoo and Museum of History.
How to pay for school construction is likely to be a top negotiating topic during this year's session between GOP lawmakers and Cooper.
House Republicans back a $1.9 billion education bond referendum for March 2020 that cleared a committee Tuesday. Senate Republicans have offered an alternative that wouldn't include issuing debt, but rather would set aside additional tax collections that senators say would generate $2 billion each for K-12 schools, UNC and community colleges over nine years.
While Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore, who is championing the chamber's GOP bond plan, both back debt as the appropriate solution to narrow a school construction funding gap, the higher amount sought by Cooper could fray their alliance.
Moore spokesman Joseph Kyzer said Cooper's plan is double the amount of borrowing recommended by the state's debt affordability committee, so it's "not an appropriate path for North Carolina taxpayers."
But the Cooper administration contends there's more fiscal capacity for debt than the study calculates, and his proposal won't bring annual debt payments near the state's self-imposed limit designed so state government can retain its top credit rating.
"Our schools and communities face roughly $30 billion in capital needs," Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in supporting the larger borrowing amount.
Cooper said his budget also will include average teacher pay raises of 9.1 percent over two years, with no teacher getting less than 3 percent raises in either year. The current salary schedule doesn't give teachers with at least 15 years' experience state-funded raises until they hit 25 years.
The governor also said his budget would spend:
• $40 million for more school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers and police officers.
• $15 million for K-12 school safety improvements and training.
• $29 million more for school textbooks, digital curriculum and instructional supplies.