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Cooper urges GOP to devote more money to his priorities

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RALEIGH (AP) — Seeking to change the minds of Republicans despite having little leverage over them, North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper wants GOP legislators to put more in the final budget toward his favored ideas and less in tax breaks benefiting corporations and the rich.

Cooper, holding a news conference Monday as House and Senate budget talks officially begin, said the chambers’ plans are too tight with spending and too loose with tax cuts when there are great needs and a sizeable surplus.

“I’m looking for more vision from this budget,” he told reporters, adding lawmakers “don’t have to squirrel it all away or give it to those who already have.”

Cooper spoke shortly after the Senate formally rejected the House’s version of the two-year budget approved last week, setting the stage for legislators to negotiate a final plan to present the governor. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Cooper said the Republican plans have fallen short in investments in public education, rural economic development and broadband, and opioid addiction treatment. He also wants more robust pay increases for all teachers compared to what the House and Senate plans offer.

The governor declined for now to threaten a veto, saying he’s optimistic that legislators can make improvements.

“I am hopeful that they can do so much more,” he said. With veto-proof majorities, GOP lawmakers can ignore Cooper if they stay united. All four of Cooper’s vetoes so far have been overridden. But only a handful of dissident Republicans are needed to gum up the negotiations.

Cooper said there are some Republicans who are frustrated by the “artificial constraints” that have been put on spending and urged them to speak to chamber leaders about raising those limits. He also asked for the public’s support.

The two chambers already have agreed to spend $22.9 billion next year. Cooper’s budget recommendation was $23.5 billion. All three plans put $300 million more into the state’s savings reserve. Cooper says Republicans could spend more and still keep the budget growing in line with inflation and population growth.

Cooper said he’s particularly concerned about GOP tax plans because he said they would make it harder to reach his teacher pay and other goals. He emphasized opposition to the Senate plan, which would siphon more than $1 billion away from state tax coffers over two years and cut individual and corporate income tax rates. The House plans cost about a third of that total and avoid rate cuts.

While Republicans point out their plans would lower tax bills for nearly all individual tax filers, Cooper said the highest wage earners and corporations still shouldn’t be getting breaks after previous cuts. Cooper’s budget contained only a child and dependent care tax credit. He sounded open Monday to an alternative tax break targeting low- and middle-income people.

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