Democrats hail Cooper budget veto

Democrats hail Cooper budget veto
June 29
05:00 2017

GOP Civil War center funding questioned

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper, calling it “small-minded” vetoed the compromise $23 billion budget the Republican-led NC General Assembly passed last week. The N.C. Senate immediately voted to override Cooper’s veto, followed by the N.C. House Wednesday morning. The budget is now law, but Cooper threatens to file suit to stop it.

One striking item in the budget is the appropriation of $5 million for a new Civil War museum in Fayetteville. Democrats say GOP budget writers took out $200,000 one-time funding for an African-American heritage monument on state Capitol grounds that was in Cooper’s budget.

In touting their budget plan, Republicans have pointed toward pay raises and more tax cuts as to why they feel it’s what’s best for North Carolina.

“I was one of the House budget writers, and [I believe] the compromised budget [between Republican conferees of the House and Senate] meets many of the needs of the people across our state,” says Rep. Donny Lambeth [R-Forsyth]. “It provides teachers with an average approximate 10 percent increase over the budget period. It provides a cost of living increase for retired state workers, it gives state workers a $1,000 increase, it invests in our pre-K programs and reduces the wait list, it provides disaster funding, adds to our savings reserve, adds more funds for school construction and helps allow families to keep more of their hard earned money.”

“So I believe this is a solid plan for allocating state funds to important programs in North Carolina that provides so many services,” Rep. Lambeth concluded.

Naturally, Democrats got behind Gov. Cooper’s reasoning as to why the Republican budget is a big mistake.

“Governor Cooper is right to veto the Republican Conference budget,” said Sen. Paul Lowe Jr. (D-Forsyth). “I voted against this budget because it shortchanges our state, by prioritizing tax cuts for the wealthy over education and our economy.”

Rep. Ed Hanes Jr. (D-Forsyth] joined his colleague, Sen. Lowe, in his dismissal.

“I could not bring myself to vote for this budget,” Hanes said. “There is a profound problem with the thought that for our state to prosper, we need to further lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy. We’ve substantially done that over the last years and stand at Number 3 in the country for business. Further action shifts the tax burden onto the shoulders of the poor and the middle class.

“Trickle down economics simply does not work,” Rep. Hanes concluded.

Rep. Cecil Brockman, Democrat of neighboring Guilford County, also blasted the GOP budget, saying that it “shows that their top priority is slashing taxes on millionaires who should be paying their fair share while leaving our hard-working families behind.”

In terms of the financial nuts-and-bolts, there was plenty about the new budget Democrats could quibble with, especially when it came to cutting taxes, money for education, and funding for economic development in poorer counties.

But a closer look at the GOP budget yielded yet other bones of contention.

By now it’s well-known about $10 million is being slashed from the N.C. Justice Department, headed up by Democratic State Attorney Gen. Josh Stein. The Republicans deny it, but Stein charges that the cut is political retribution for him winning the office last November, and siding with Gov. Cooper against the Republican legislative majority on several voting rights cases.

Stein says he may have to lay off at least a hundred state litigators as a result, which will ultimately hurt law enforcement.

The GOP compromise budget also cuts $1 million from Gov. Cooper’s office, and limits his ability to hire independent legal counsel to sue the General Assembly when it challenges his authority. Cooper has hinted that he will indeed file a lawsuit as a result.

“I just became aware of this latest ill-advised political power grab by the North Carolina General Assembly,” said Irving Joyner, law professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law. “This action represents just another example of the destruction of democracy in North Carolina. These right-wing extremists, who presently control the General Assembly, are intent upon dominating every aspect of life in North Carolina and have gone to great lengths to destroy the ‘checks and balances’ which the state constitution requires. These acts should be exposed and aggressively resisted.”

But among others, there is one situation in the voluminous pages of the GOP budget that is of particular interest to African-Americans across the state.

According to the North Carolina Democratic Party, when Gov. Cooper originally issued his budget proposal several weeks ago, included was $200,000 one-time funding for an African-American heritage monument on state Capitol grounds.

The proposed monument, originally planned for under Gov. Pat McCrory by the N.C. Historical Commission and the N.C. African-American Heritage Commission, was the subject of numerous public hearings across the state last year.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate way to recognize the contributions of African- Americans to North Carolina’s history than a monument at the State Capitol,” McCrory said at the time.

Republican budget writers, however, discarded Cooper’s monument item, and instead replaced it by appropriating $5 million for a new Civil War museum in Fayetteville.

“Civil War Museum” is the title of item #6 under Department of Natural and Cultural Resources on Page M5 of the “Joint Conference Committee Report on the Base, Capital and Expansion Budget (Senate Bill 257).”

Provides $2.5 million to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to begin the process of converting the Museum of the Cape Fear (in Fayetteville) into a Civil War Museum. There is an additional $2.5 million appropriated to the Department upon verification of $2.5 million in private donations towards the project. The revised net appropriation for this project is $5,000,000.

According to David Winslow, president of The Winslow Group Inc. of Winston-Salem, the primary fundraiser for the $65 million “N.C. Civil War History Center” since 2014, approximately $27 million (with the state money added) has already been raised, and most of that has come from public dollars contributed by the city of Fayetteville, the county of Cumberland, and now the state of North Carolina.

Only $7 million is from private donations.

According to the company’s website, the museum is scheduled to open in 2020. Winslow says the “center” will be different.

“We are about telling the whole story,” Winslow said by phone on Tuesday.  “We have partnered with Fayetteville State University in what we’re doing.”

Still, it is not clear why Republican lawmakers cut $200,000 for a state monument to African-American heritage originally started by a GOP governor, only to give 25 times that much for a “center” focusing on the civil war, which most historians agree was fought over slavery.

“Budgets show what you value,” said N.C. Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin. “Governor Cooper, through his budget, outlined how important it is that our state remember and honor our shared history. Republicans clearly feel otherwise – they’d rather give their offices an upgrade. I’m not sure the difference could be any clearer: Republicans value themselves and their power, while Governor Cooper wants to see our state remember on capital grounds our full heritage.”

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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