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Source: Senate budget includes bigger raises for state employees, less for teachers

May 24, 2019

The Senate budget proposal set for release early next week will have higher raises for state employees than its House counterpart or Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget, but less for teachers, a source familiar with the plan said Friday.

Most state employees would get a 2.5 percent pay bump in each of the next two fiscal years under the plan, the source said, “substantially more than the average raise for teachers.”

Exact figures for teachers were still being calculated Friday, the source said.

The House budget called for a 4.6 percent raise for teachers next year – although raises would be limited to teachers with at least 16 years of experience – while Cooper included a 9.1 percent average increase over the next two years.

The feeling among Senate budget writers is that recent budgets have keyed on teacher salaries and that state employees should be a higher priority this time out. State Employees Association of North Carolina Executive Director Robert Broome said Friday that state workers are typically “an afterthought in the budget process.”

“I would say that pay raises have failed to keep up with inflation, and when money has been available for pay raises, those funds were not equitably distributed,” Broome said. “The Senate’s pay proposal recognizes the sad truth of this inequity, and it takes steps to address it.”

The Senate plans to roll out details of its budget proposal Tuesday and vote it through by the end of the week. Then, negotiations between House and Senate leaders will produce a compromise budget the General Assembly will send to Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper could very well veto that budget, setting up a stalemate that could drag on for weeks or months.

Cooper called for the greater of 1.5 percent or $500 raises for state employees in each year of his proposed two-year budget. Some workers, including corrections officers and teaching assistants would also get an extra $500.

The House cut that to 1 percent a year or $500, whichever was more. SEANC called the proposal “disrespectful” when it was released, and the group’s president said it was “a slap in the face.”

Raises in the Senate budget would take effect at the start of the fiscal year, on July 1, the source said. The House’s proposed raises for teachers and employees wouldn’t kick in until Jan. 1.

Last year, lawmakers included 2 percent pay bumps for many state workers and even larger raises to get others to a $15-an-hour minimum, a move SEANC praised as a first-in-the-nation commitment to lower-wage state employees.

This budget will have more money on the bottom line than expected, due to $700 million in revenue the state has collected this year beyond what was predicted. Some General Assembly leaders have said they favor returning at least some of that money to taxpayers, but the source said Friday that what to do with the surplus in the Senate budget is still being discussed.

As for teachers, the General Assembly has funded five straight annual raises, giving the state one of the fastest-rising average salaries in the country. North Carolina has gone from 47th in the country five years ago to 29th, according to estimates from the National Education Association.

The North Carolina Association of Educators has organized protests at the General Assembly for two years running, though, complaining about a variety of state funding issues. Democrats, including Cooper, have pushed for higher teacher raises than their Republican counterparts.

The House, the Senate and the governor have all agreed that the state needs to put more money this year into building schools, though they differ over how much and whether to borrow or pay for projects out of the regular budget, which could sap funding from other priorities.

Republicans in the House and the Senate have also backed a major business tax cut this session, which Cooper opposes.