• Cooper’s budget proposal is an unrealistic political document, not a serious budget plan
  • It would increase budgeted expenditures over the current year by 11.6 percent
  • The budget would direct hundreds of millions to cronies and “niceties” that are outside the core functions of state government

At an 11.6 percent increase, Governor Cooper’s budget proposal would mark the largest one-year increase in spending in two decades. It would dramatically reverse the state government’s trend of spending down debt, and it would include substantial spending on items far removed from the core functions of government.

Renewable energy cronyism

Cooper’s renewable-energy cronies would make out well in his budget plan. For instance, his proposal includes $500,000 “to fund the development of a Clean Transportation Plan for North Carolina.”

Consider this a minor down payment for a plan that would be far more costly to the state both financially and in terms of unfunded mandates. The plan likely would require inefficient and costly electric vehicles and buses.

Other giveaways to so-called clean energy include:

  • $4.5 million in grants “to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship, and the development of small business” in the “clean energy” field
  • $10 million in grants for “clean energy economic development” and to “grow clean energy jobs”
  • $1 million to support a study evaluating the impact on communities as the energy sector shifts away from fossil fuel-based electricity generation
  • $1.5 million to develop a study for how North Carolina can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a wildly irresponsible plan if it doesn’t rely heavily on nuclear

More cronyism

Cooper’s plan also would direct millions more in funds to crony taxpayer giveaway programs, including:

  • $3 million in additional funds to the Carolina Small Business Development Fund
  • $9 million more in funds for the One North Carolina Small Business Program
  • $1 million for a new Arts Council Film Grants funds to direct taxpayer dollars to the film industry
  • $1 million for agricultural marketing
  • $5 million for advertising NC as a business destination

Massive debt package with hundreds of millions to nonessential ‘niceties’

Cooper’s proposal includes a $4.7 billion debt package, a plan that would more than double the state’s current total of General Fund tax supported debt of $4.1 billion. This proposal would reverse years of progress made by fiscally responsible conservative leadership, which worked to decrease state debt from $6.5 billion in 2013, a 37 percent reduction.

Much of the debt would be focused on capital projects in K-12 and higher education, but a sizeable share would also go to projects that would be considered “niceties” but are far from core government functions. The following attractions may be nice to have but should instead be transitioned to support by paying customers and voluntary charitable giving instead of being handed tens of millions more in taxpayer funds.

These items include:

  • $54 million for expansion and renovation to the Museum of History in downtown Raleigh
  • $70 million for two new exhibits at the state zoo
  • $20 million for an environmental learning center at the NC Museum of Art’s Museum Park
  • $45 million for upgrades to historic sites in advance of the American 250th year commemoration events
  • $250 million to fund “land acquisitions, renovations, repairs, and floodplain enhancements for state and local parks”

Moreover, Cooper’s plan would include more than $43 million in cash-funded capital projects for museums, an aquarium, and a historical site visitor’s center.

Miscellaneous nonessentials

Cooper’s plan also includes several other line items devoted to recreational activities that should be funded by voluntary patronage or donations, including:

  • $915,000 for a new education center at the Mountain Island Education State Forest
  • $500,000 for the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck excavation project
  • $100,000 for the highway historical marker program
  • $258,000 for temporary positions to help market and plan the 250th American commemorative events
  • $200,000 for pay the Conservation Corps to help maintain trails at state parks
  • $77,000 for sea turtle assistant at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island
  • $500,000 to supplement operations of the NC Museum of Art
  • $140,000 for maintenance upgrades to the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art
  • $250,000 to increase the number of touring exhibit grants to State Arts Organizations
  • $1 million for “Grassroots Arts” programs across the state
  • $500,000 for an initiative working with cities and towns across the state to create arts-driven economic development projects
  • $850,000 for the NC Symphony
  • $1 million to public libraries across the state
  • $1 million for North Carolina Science Museum grant funds to “sustain and advance a diverse and widespread network of science museums”
  • $5 million for a grant program enabling local governments and nonprofits to develop and construct shared-use paths and greenway trails
  • $5 million for a grant program enabling local governments and nonprofits to develop and construct natural surface trails that better connect rural and urban areas