Facing Billion-Dollar Budget Shortfall, Gov. Cooper to US Congress: ‘Do More, as Quickly as Possible’

Gov. Roy Cooper urged local governments in some communities to consider new coronavirus restrictions as the virus spreads. (Image via NC DPS)

By Billy Ball

July 17, 2020

State and local governments, schools, unemployed in need of speedy action as coronavirus pandemic continues to batter state, governor says. 

Gov. Roy Cooper called on North Carolina’s Congressional delegation Friday to “do more, as quickly as possible” to address a billion-dollar revenue shortfall spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. 

With the state’s revenues now projected to fall about $1.25 billion below expectations this fiscal year, Cooper said federal lawmakers will need to be generous in their appropriations for state and local governments, echoing the calls of many US states and local governments gutted by the spread of the virus.

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“Combined with COVID-driven losses in the recently concluded FY 2019-20, the total local and state general revenue decline in North Carolina is in excess of $5 billion, with losses in dedicated transportation related revenues driving the combined total above $6 billion,” Cooper wrote. “Current projections indicate that even assuming the eradication of COVID-19 in the near future, we are unlikely to return to previously expected 2020 revenue levels until at least 2023.”

Read the entirety of Cooper’s letter here.

Cooper’s request includes funding for the state’s public schools, which are expected to reopen under a hodgepodge of plans in August, some opting for fully remote learning.

Cooper had previously expressed optimism about a full reopening for schools, but COVID-19 infections have been mounting in recent weeks. Some education leaders warned of the dangers of reopening for teachers and kids, even as President Trump’s administration demands in-person education. 

RELATED: What Cooper’s ‘Measured’ Approach To NC School Reopening Means

WRAL reported Friday that NC’s top Senate Republican, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, said districts should be offering parents the option for full in-person learning too. 

“If you’re practicing the social distancing and doing all the other things, it just strikes me that that’s not a higher-risk situation,” Berger told WRAL.

Cooper has opted for a more cautious approach. 

“In order to (reopen schools) effectively, we need federal funds dedicated to education, both in K-12 settings and for our colleges and universities,” Cooper wrote. “Without it these institutions will not be able to purchase the essential cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and other materials necessary to create a safe and productive learning environment, including the ability to pay teachers and staff who will be on the frontlines of the pandemic. We also must ensure our ability to address nutrition for students, both those in school and those distance learning.”

Congress approved trillions in coronavirus relief money in March, but with states still reeling from the pandemic and federal unemployment relief checks set to lapse at the end of July, some are hoping for another investment from federal lawmakers.

The so-called HEROES Act, with about $3 trillion additional relief spending, passed the Democratic-controlled Congress in May, but Senate Republicans have been critical of the bill. 

Cooper noted the HEROES Act and ongoing relief discussions in the Senate as well.

“Please do all you can to push towards swift and successful outcomes as you consider what is necessary for North Carolina and our country to emerge from this pandemic stronger than before,” he wrote. “The actions you take in the next few weeks are vital to our ability to emerge from this crisis and restore the economic prosperity we know we are capable of.” 


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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