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When Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield stood with Gov. Roy Cooper and voted against the Republican state budget, she did what she thought was best for Wilsonians. And she didn’t expect to be attacked for it, but a Republican House Caucus news release did just that.
“According to the GOP, ‘the voters deserve an honest answer from Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield as to why she voted against the budget.’ Let me say, that tells you exactly why I voted against it,” Farmer-Butterfield said. “I was sent to the legislature to figure for Wilson and to make sure the people in my district were first and foremost. They deserve better.
“Quite frankly, the voters have gotten that answer from me and now they need to have Rep. (John) Bell, as the leader of the GOP who sent this release to the press, answer as to why he supported a unilateral budget that excluded millions of North Carolinians and shortchanged tens of thousands of hardworking citizens, schoolchildren, hurricane victims and state employees who deserve so much more.”
“I am proud that I was a sponsor of House Bill 980, which was the governor’s budget,” Farmer-Butterfield said. “That bill was sponsored in a nonpartisan fashion by Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives. It was friendly for the teachers, the students, state employees as well as small businesses.”
Gov. Roy Cooper pitched a $24.5 billion budget proposal while Republicans pushed a $23.9 billion budget, and the differences between the two were significant. Cooper pitched an average 8 percent pay raise for teachers with none getting less than 5 percent while Republicans included an average increase of 6.5 percent that means some teachers get no raise while others receive 14.8 percent increases.
Cooper increased education spending by $530 million while Republicans offered a $163 million boost, with Cooper paying for the teacher raises by freezing income tax cuts scheduled for corporations and personal income of more than $200,000 — two tax reductions that the GOP voted to enact.
“We can do so much more to raise teacher pay, improve school safety and invest in early childhood education, but the Republicans thought tax breaks for corporations and people making over $200,000 a year was a higher priority,” Farmer-Butterfield said. “...A budget is a reflection of our values and priorities. North Carolina has a surplus and we should invest in public education because the return on that investment is significant. The cost of education increases each year, but the Republican investment in education does not keep pace with the cost.”
Cooper’s proposal includes $98.7 million for teacher pay raises while the GOP provides $11.8 million. Cooper had $130 million for school safety measures while Republicans included $28 million in new funds for school safety grant programs. Cooper budgeted $60 million for the N.C. Job Ready Fund, but the GOP does not fund the program to train and grow the state’s workforce. Cooper budgeted an additional $81 million for community colleges while the GOP provided an additional $44 million.
“Let’s talk specifics, the GOP says $10 million investment in broadband access for rural communities, but I can tell you the GOP plan does not even apply to Wilson,” Farmer-Butterfield said, referring to a claim in the North Carolina Republican Party news release. “Wilson is a Tier 2 county, not a Tier 1 and (the GOP plan) only applies to Tier 1 counties, so it wouldn’t have even benefited my hometown of Wilson. The governor’s budget, on the other hand, recommended $20 million in investment and that would have (applied to Wilson).”
The GOP release states Farmer-Butterfield’s vote against the Republican budget “shows she cares more about partisan politics than helping the people of her community.”
“It is a sad day for the citizens of Wilson County. By voting against investment in broadband access for rural communities, pay raises for our teachers, principals and state employees, and funding for school safety initiatives, Rep. Farmer-Butterfield has once again put party politics over the needs of her constituents,” Bell, the House majority leader, said in the release. “Sadly, Rep. Farmer-Butterfield continues to show she is more loyal to Roy Cooper’s political games and future ambitions than being a responsible representative for her district.”
Farmer-Butterfield firmly refuted Bell’s claims.
“In the press release, I was referred to twice as a he. To send out that press release and not change the pronouns was embarrassing to them and offensive to me, but that is how partisan politics work,” she said. “I have never been a partisan politician and people who know me know that. I am nonpartisan. I can work with any party, but when you try to make inaccurate statements about me when it is a political season, I have no respect for that and I will not play that game.”
The GOP budget passed by a 66-44 House vote and was sent to Cooper on June 1. The governor vetoed the budget on Wednesday, condemning the GOP for crafting it behind closed doors without public input and refusing to allow amendments.
“Unfortunately, everyday North Carolinians were shut out from this year’s budget process in an unprecedented authoritarian power grab by legislative leaders,” Cooper said in a statement announcing his veto.
Farmer-Butterfield likened the Republican-only input for the budget to dictatorship.
“I’m in shock because the process was just appalling and embarrassing to me that our state has come to that,” she said. “And when you have a supermajority, why would you feel the need to do that? If it were that good of a budget and that good for the people of North Carolina, why not open it up to the public? What are you hiding? What is the big secret?”
The Senate voted to override Cooper’s veto and approve the $23.9 billion budget. The House override vote is anticipated early next week.
“This budget was a missed opportunity,” Farmer-Butterfield said, “and that is why I voted against it.”