Tax cuts have undercut raises for all teachers

April 16, 2014 

No doubt sensing that their attacks on public education – and public school teachers in particular – might backfire on Election Day, Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders grudgingly started flirting with pay hikes for some teachers.

But now they seem to be backing up and denying the real cause of their retreat.

McCrory started some months ago talking about raises for the state’s starting teachers, moving from the disgraceful base of $30,000 to $33,000 and then to $35,000. Then there came a push for raises for veteran teachers as well.

But now, thanks in part to slower economic growth than anticipated, Republicans say a raise for all is doubtful. Will they still try to give starting teachers something? Their economic figureswould seem to make even that doubtful.

Slow growth may be part of the problem, but a larger part is the Republican tax giveaway: A flat tax was established for personal income, and the corporate tax was cut to 6 percent. Though both moves benefit businesses and the wealthy most of all, McCrory continues to try to sell this foolish tax plan as something for average North Carolinians. The plan is little more than the same old Republican “trickle down” economics, justifying tax cuts by saying they will give the rich more money to create jobs, which helps the average person.

Too much lost revenue

But here’s the rub on teacher pay. Thanks to the fact that the Republican giveaway will cost the state about $2.4 billion over five years in lost revenue – personal income tax withholdings are behind forecasts by $221 million – there’s not going to be enough money for an across-the-board teacher pay increase.

And if beginning teachers are smart, they won’t count on the raise McCrory has talked about giving them. To make that happen, McCrory and his legislative allies will have to find some pretty serious budget cuts.

The entire scenario is brought to you by inexperienced legislative leaders driven by something akin to the tea party ideology of little or no government and few if any taxes. They took a leap without calculating distance and speed and looking at what might be at the bottom.

To make matters worse, McCrory and Republican leaders even had a special appearance April 15 to praise their tax law changes and to showcase how they were going to boost the state’s economy with more jobs, even though the governor’s breathless campaign promises of economic good times are far from being realized.

Easy to forecast a shortage

The bad news on the teacher pay issue was compounded by a do-nothing report from the Committee on North Carolina Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force, which left teachers and some legislators dissatisfied, and no wonder. The group, co-chaired by Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman of Archdale and Rep. Rob Bryan of Charlotte, came to the conclusion that more study was needed.

No, what’s needed is a pay scale that brings North Carolina teachers to the national average instead of leaving them at 46th in the nation. Between the embarrassingly low pay and the penchant of some lawmakers to use public school teachers as political targets, the state is setting itself up for a teacher shortage of monumental proportions. Neighboring states pay more – some much more. The state has been getting far too good a bargain in its teacher corps.

And now, thanks to the inexperience with budget-writing in the Republican ranks and the governor’s tendency to talk first and fill in the details later, it indeed appears that most if not all teachers may be out in the cold. Teachers and other state workers have had one salary bump since 2008.

The governor might have made a promise he cannot keep. And it was the top-down policies of the Republican majority in the legislature that may cause him to break it.

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