by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The libertarian Cato Institute has assigned N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper an F grade in its latest “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.” Cooper is one of just two Southern governors and eight nationwide to get a failing grade.
Here’s Cato’s take on North Carolina’s top chief executive:
Governor Roy Cooper entered office in 2017 after serving as North Carolina’s attorney general for 16 years. Cooper scored poorly on both spending and taxes in this report. The state’s general fund budget rose 4.3 percent in 2018, and Cooper proposed a 6.5 percent budget increase for 2019. The legislature enacted a lower spending increase for 2019 over Cooper’s veto. Last year’s budget bill was also passed over his veto.
On taxes, Cooper has tried to block efforts by the legislature to make pro-growth reforms. The governor vetoed tax legislation in 2017 but was overridden by the legislature. That law cut the flat individual income rate from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent and the corporate tax rate from 3.0 percent to 2.5 percent. The bill also changed the individual income tax base, the franchise tax, and sales taxes on business inputs. Altogether, the law will cut taxes by more than $900 million annually.
A similar scenario played out in 2018. Governor Cooper’s budget proposed freezing the phase-in of corporate income tax reductions and some of the personal income tax reductions. He wanted higher revenues to fund a spending increase. The legislature rejected the proposals and passed the budget over Cooper’s veto.
The adopted budget includes a smaller spending increase, retains the 2017 tax cuts, and conforms the state’s tax code to recent federal changes. As of June 2018, Cooper had vetoed 14 bills during his year and a half in office, and the legislature had overridden 11 of those vetoes.
On the other end of the spectrum, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is one of five governors who earn an A from Cato, joining Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Paul LePage of Maine, and Greg Abbott of Texas.