Politics & Government

NC state employees will get raises; Gov. Cooper vetoes Medicaid transformation bill

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper signed raises for state employees into law on Friday, giving thousands of state employees their promised pay increases.

The raises will be retroactive to July 1, when the fiscal year started. Monday is Labor Day.

Cooper signed multiple mini budget bills Friday that include raises for state employees. The piecemeal budget bills are a workaround to get state employees their raises while the state budget standoff continues between Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican-led General Assembly.

The state employee raises include 2.5% increases in each of the next two years for most state employees, equaling 5%.

On Friday, Cooper also vetoed Medicaid transformation, the upcoming transition from fee-for-service to managed care. Medicaid transformation was built into the budget, but this bill separates it into one of the piecemeal budget bills.

This is the governor’s eighth veto this session. He vetoed 28 in the 2017-18 biennium.

North Carolina employee raises

In separate bills, raises will go to State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement, State Highway Patrol and correctional officers. State Highway Patrol officers will get 2.5% raises each of the next two years and step increases. SBI and ALE raises will be at least 5% total over the next two years. Starting pay also will increase, and the salary schedule will be adjusted.

Regarding HB 226, which provides state employee raises, Cooper said in a statement: “We appreciate our hardworking state employees across North Carolina. However, Republicans are insisting that teachers get a smaller pay raise than other state employees. This hurts our efforts to attract and keep highly qualified teachers in every classroom. I urge Republican legislators to pass a pay raise that doesn’t shortchange teachers.”

Cooper said he donated his own raise of $3,682 Friday to Donors Choose, a website that raises money for teachers’ projects and supplies.

According to Cooper’s office, Donors Choose project donations went to classrooms in Beaufort, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Cherokee, Cumberland, Durham, Edgecombe, Randolph, Robeson, Stokes and Winston-Salem/Forsyth counties.

Teacher raises will show up in a separate bill after the General Assembly returns Sept. 9 following a week-long break, Republican leaders said Wednesday.

Cooper’s budget counteroffer and the legislature’s conference budget have different amounts for teacher raises. The raises passed Friday were amounts they both agreed on.

Raises for UNC system, community college and non-certified school employees were being considered in a separate bill that was referred back to committee on Wednesday. That could come up again as a conference report, which means Republicans and Democrats simply take an up or down vote, like they did with the other raises.

Veto Medicaid transformation

Medicaid expansion has been at the heart of the budget standoff this summer. Cooper wants Medicaid expansion as part of budget negotiations, and Republican leaders do not.

The change to Medicaid comes to the Department of Health and Human Services after legislation in 2015. The state will now contract with insurance companies, which are paid a predetermined rate per person, according to DHHS.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Cooper called piecemeal budget bills “another trick that is bad public policy to get a budget that is 100% their way, the wrong way.”

“Passing mini-funding bills that simply divvy up the vetoed Republican budget is a tactic to avoid a comprehensive budget that provides for health care and other important needs like education,:” Cooper said in a statement Friday about the veto. “Health care is an area where North Carolina needs us to do more, and to do it comprehensively.”

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said at a news conference Wednesday there will be 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, as the budget impasse continues.

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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.