The Latest: Governor defends spending increase as 'catch up'

Roy Cooper (WTVD photo)

DURHAM - The Latest on North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper releasing his two-year state government budget proposal (all times local):

12:10 p.m.

Gov. Roy Cooper is defending his proposals to increase state government spending next year by more than 5 percent and to issue hundreds of millions of dollars in new debt without the approval of voters.

Cooper told reporters Wednesday in Durham that it's time to "catch up" on spending investments in education from a child's early years through college, including teacher raises. The new Democratic governor has framed his two-year spending plan as one that would ultimately make the state a national leader in graduation rates and pre-kindergarten. He's criticized the GOP for failing to make education a funding priority. The governor also wants to issue $350 million in debt for university and state government building projects. Cooper says it's fiscally responsible during a time of low interest rates. __ 10:50 a.m. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's budget proposal would increase North Carolina state government spending by $1.1 billion next year while giving teachers and state employee raises, reducing waiting lists for pre-kindergarten programs and expanding Medicaid. Cooper released his two-year plan Wednesday. It would increase spending by more than 5 percent compared to the current budget on the books and approved by Republican lawmakers. As expected, the new governor wants average teacher raises of 5 percent annually. Most state employees next year would get raises equal to 2 percent or $800, whichever is greater. The governor wants to reinstate a tax credit for child and dependent care expenses that GOP legislators eliminated. And Cooper wants to revive a tax credit for film and TV productions. __ 8:10 a.m. Democrat Roy Cooper is unveiling his first state budget as North Carolina's governor, a proposal expected to focus heavily on public education. Cooper was slated to announce his two-year budget Wednesday at Durham Technical Community College. The governor's office has said Cooper's proposal would aim toward making North Carolina a leader in key education measurements by 2025. Those include pre-kindergarten enrollment, high school graduation rates and the percentage of adults with higher education degrees. The budget goes to the General Assembly, which is securely in Republican hands. GOP leaders are under no obligation to approve it but may have similar viewpoints on some topics. Cooper announced last week a teacher pay plan in his budget that would put average salaries close to what Senate leader Phil Berger wants.

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