Politics & Government

House members reject efforts to curtail NCDOT raises

NC House Speaker Tim Moore talks about proposed budget

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore talks about a proposed state House budget during a press conference in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 30, 2019.
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North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore talks about a proposed state House budget during a press conference in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, April 30, 2019.

The state Department of Transportation will continue to have the authority to provide up to $152 million in market-based pay raises for its employees after House members twice voted against the wishes of their top budget writers to curtail the spending.

On Thursday, a budget provision meant to end NCDOT’s authority was stripped from the budget bill. Then on Friday, an effort to largely restore it failed.

Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, on Friday sought again to correct what he and other budget writers viewed as NCDOT’s misreading of a provision in last year’s budget that gave it authority to provide market-rate pay increases for two years. The budget writers say NCDOT could use 2 percent of its payroll expenses on the increases, or roughly $35 million; NCDOT officials say the provision allowed them to use 2 percent of their highway funds, or $152 million.

NCDOT has already committed $55 million for pay increases for 7,000 employees, saying pay had fallen way behind the market. Nearly 5,300 received double-digit increases, some as high as in the 60 percent range. The budget writers’ proposed changes would not have removed those raises.

None of those raises went to DMV workers, whose pay had not been studied for market disparities. House budget writers, in their provision, had offered NCDOT $7.5 million to take care of those employees, many of whom are having to relocate to a new headquarters in Rocky Mount. McGrady’s amendment would have also made any NCDOT employees who did not receive double-digit increases eligible for pay raises lawmakers make available for most state employees.

“The people that didn’t get the big raises and got left out, I’ve addressed that,” he said.

Rep. Kelly Hastings, a Cherryville Republican, said letting NCDOT continue to spend on raises as it sees fit could mean a loss of tens of millions of dollars on transportation projects that are already taking hits from hurricanes that have swept through the state in the past two years.

“It’s not that we’re against DOT, or DOT staff,” he said. “It’s just that I don’t want to be blamed for slowing down construction projects.”

But Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican who leads the House budget committee for transportation, opposed McGrady’s amendment. He had run the amendment Thursday that stripped the original provision.

“I don’t believe in politicizing individuals when it comes to putting food on the table,” he said.

The budget bill later cleared the House by a 61-51 vote, which shifts the issue to the state Senate. It is likely to draft its own budget bill.

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Dan Kane began working for The News & Observer in 1997. He covered local government, higher education and the state legislature before joining the investigative team in 2009.