State won't raise pay

But Perdue wants to repay teachers and state employees for furlough.

Staff WriterMarch 10, 2010 

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CORRECTION

A story on Page 1B Wednesday incorrectly described the length of the furlough imposed on teachers and state employees in 2009. It was 10 hours.

****** North Carolina's teachers and state employees can expect another year without a pay raise.

Gov. Bev Perdue said that, although salaries will remain flat in the coming budget year, she's aiming to pay back the 0.5 percent pay cut that state workers and teachers received last year in the form of a two-day furlough.

"There is no money for teacher or state employee raises," Perdue said in a recent interview. "I hope to find money to repay the furlough. Because I've been able to pay the bills, and I need to give them back their money the way I did local governments."

Last February, Perdue seized $38 million of lottery money earmarked for local school construction to sustain the state's cash flow and pay bills. She returned that money in August.

State employees on Tuesday expressed little surprise that their paychecks won't grow.

"I feel lucky I have a job, because there are a lot of us who don't," said Eric Blevins, head of photography at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.

"We've sort of expected this," said Mary McCray, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, the county's major teachers group. "It's encouraging that there's a possibility that we would get the half-percent back."

Perdue's administration writes the first draft of the state budget every year, and lawmakers then make substantial changes before passing it. In this case, though, legislative leaders already agreed with Perdue on forgoing raises. They expressed caution about paying back the $65 million to $70 million in furlough money.

"It depends on the economy," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat and senior budget committee chairman. "I would gladly consider it, but that'll be tempered by what [revenue] we're bringing in."

How they lost last year

Chrissy Pearson, Perdue's communications director, described Perdue as looking into ways to make the furlough repayment happen.

"It may be too early to tell what the budget will hold for state employees," Pearson said. "We continue to face very tough times. We continue to ask our state employees and state agencies to do more with less, and the governor is acutely aware of how difficult that is."

In April last year, Perdue ordered the state's 82,000 teachers and 91,000 state employees to take a two-day furlough, effectively a half-percent pay cut to help balance the budget.

That money was not paid back, and when the new budget year began a few weeks later, no raises were handed out. July 1 will mark the beginning of the second consecutive budget year without a pay raise for state workers.

Not surprised

Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said his members are disappointed but not surprised.

"While we're not happy with the prospect of no salary increases, we understand," Cope said, adding that the workload has grown. "The demand on state services is rising exponentially at the same time that there's been no growth in the number of positions providing them."

Perdue eliminated about 2,000 state jobs last year.

Cope praised Perdue for recognizing the need to sustain essential public services. Cope and SEANC backed Perdue in the 2008 campaign. Perdue has since given the association the authority to represent state workers in discussions with state agencies about workplace conditions, which business organizations view as a step toward collective bargaining. North Carolina and Virginia are the only states with a complete ban on collective bargaining by public employees.

At least no layoffs

State employees can take some solace in holding on to their jobs. At least 14 states laid off state employees during this budget year, from 20,000 California teachers to 48 Missouri state parks employees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many private sector employers have taken more drastic steps, laying off thousands of workers, cutting salaries and shuttering entire plants. Cope cautioned, though, that private companies are responding to a drop in demand for their products and services, while the demands on state government increase during a recession.

"And you're still losing positions," he said. "You're still taking wage and benefit cuts."

mjohnson@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-4774

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