Spend big. It’s the Cooper way, as evidenced by his new budget proposal, which increases spending by 11.6 percent for fiscal year (FY) 2021-22. A review by Locke analysts notes the increase is $2.8 billion more than the state budgeted for this year.

But for Gov. Cooper, spending big isn’t enough. He also wants to borrow big. Locke’s Brian Balfour peels back the onion on Gov. Cooper’s plan.

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.

Ok, you may agree on some of these and disagree on others. But why massively spend and borrow? Locke’s Becki Gray addressed these points when she recently joined WUNC’s “The Politics Podcast.” LISTEN IN:


Now the debate begins.

The budget discussion now shifts to the General Assembly. “Crafting a budget in the uncertain times surrounding COVID-19 is tough — there’s no question about it,” Kokai said. “But Gov. Cooper has decided not to make the tough, serious decisions about state government spending that would allow his proposal to get serious consideration from the General Assembly.”

“The governor emphasizes that everything is on the table as budget negotiations move forward,” Kokai added. “Let’s hope that means he will accept good ideas for enhancing the state’s economy, education, and health — while dropping proposals that would move North Carolina in the wrong direction.”