Politics & Government

Raises for some state workers get legislative OK. UNC raises sent back to committee.

Sen. Berger responds to Gov. Cooper on state budget

Senate President Phil Berger address the media during a press conference at the N.C. General Assembly on Wednesday, August 28, 2019
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Senate President Phil Berger address the media during a press conference at the N.C. General Assembly on Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Thousands of state employees will get their raises, assuming the governor approves bills that passed the House and Senate this week.

In multiple mini budget bills, the raises for state employees in the proposed budget showed up Tuesday and Wednesday in the Senate and House. The piecemeal budget bills are a workaround to get state employees their raises while the state budget standoff between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-led General Assembly continues. Cooper has said he will consider each bill that comes across his desk.

The state employee raises that the legislature passed include 2.5% increases in each of the next two years for most state employees, equaling 5% total over the biennium. State Bureau of Investigation and alcohol law enforcement raises passed in a separate bill, as did raises for the State Highway Patrol.

The House voted for the state employee raises 114-0.

Teacher raises are expected to show up in a separate bill after the General Assembly’s break next week. Raises for UNC, community college and non-certified school employees were being considered in a separate bill that was referred back to committee on Wednesday.

Where Medicaid expansion stands

On Tuesday, Cooper held a news conference where he talked about how he is still waiting for the Republicans’ budget counteroffer to the compromise he offered on July 9 after his June 28 veto of the budget. Republicans have repeatedly said they want to negotiate the budget without the Medicaid expansion Cooper wants, but Cooper did not back down from wanting Medicaid to be part of the budget discussion.

Instead of the counteroffer he’s been waiting for, the governor said, “we get Congressional-style piecemeal budget bills. They don’t work well in Washington, and they won’t work well in North Carolina.”

On the House floor Wednesday, House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said there isn’t a Medicaid or nothing ultimatum when it comes to budget negotiations, as Republicans have asserted.

“I’m serious when I say there is no Medicaid ultimatum. I’m here ready to negotiate, as is the governor, as is the Democratic caucus,” Jackson said.

Also on Wednesday, Berger and Moore held a news conference about the budget and plans for more mini budget legislation for parts of the budget that have support from both parties.

“We’ll be taking up individual pieces of legislation to fund rape kit testing, prison safety measures, disaster relief funding and school safety,” Berger said. He said their approach is to pass into law those items for which there is already broad bipartisan agreement.

That legislation won’t come until the week after next. After votes on Thursday, the legislature will take a week-long break over Labor Day, returning on Sept. 9.

Moore said his conversations with Cooper have always been pleasant, and he told the governor he didn’t have to use Medicaid expansion “as leverage or an ultimatum or whatever word you want to use.”

The budget that Cooper vetoed included calling a special session to discuss Medicaid and health care overall. Republican leaders don’t think Cooper and Democrats have the votes to pass a Medicaid expansion bill.

“He tells [the press] and the public one thing — says there’s no ultimatum — but as soon as he gets behind closed doors, the governor says we need to settle Medicaid first,” Berger said.

Berger said that Medicaid expansion should be resolved as a separate issue from the budget.

The top 25 salaries for North Carolina State employees. The list does not include Public School employees, General Assembly employees, University System employees or UNC Hospitals employees.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.
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