Politics & Government

Republicans plan extra teacher raises — if Democrats help override Cooper’s budget veto

An earlier version of this story had an incorrect total for raises.

Republicans in the General Assembly are offering Democrats a deal that would mean raises for teachers and some other state employees if the state budget becomes law.

North Carolina teachers could get the 3.9% raises over the next two years that are in the state budget, which includes step increases for longevity, or an additional raise that would bring the total raise to 4.4% if Democrats vote with Republicans to override the governor’s veto of the budget, Republican General Assembly leaders announced Wednesday.

The bill will be considered by the legislature on Thursday, Oct. 31, the day the Senate previously announced it would adjourn for a few weeks or more.

Senate leader Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore, who lead Republican majorities in each chamber, announced the raises would be retroactive to July 1, which was the start of the fiscal year, and take effect immediately if Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signs it into law.

However, Republicans are making additional raises contingent on a Senate vote for the override. If the budget veto is overridden, the total proposed raises would be:

4.4% over the next two years for teachers

4% over the next two years, plus a 0.5% bonus for non-instructional support staff

4% over the next two years for UNC System employees

4% over the next two years for community college employees

Regardless of the override, lawmakers will still consider the bill Thursday that includes raises of 3.9% over two years, including step increases, and a 2% raise for non-instructional support staff over those two years, which was also in the overall budget.

Cooper has objected to the GOP’s budget, mainly because it doesn’t expand Medicaid government health insurance to more low-income people.. But the House overrode his budget veto on Sept. 11 in a surprise vote when most Democrats were absent because they thought it would not be a voting session. And an override continues to sit on the Senate’s agenda for possible action.

Moore said in a news conference Wednesday that House Republicans would have rather gotten a “reasonable” compromise offer from the governor instead of overriding the budget veto.

Moore said the bill sends a message to Democrats that there will be “even more” investment in education than what would happen if the budget veto is overridden.

Berger called the raises “above and beyond” what was in the original budget.

“We will soon learn whether Senate Democrats are more committed to the Governor’s Medicaid ultimatum or to what they claim is a top priority: teachers,” Berger said in a statement.

“There’s still time for Senate Democrats to come back to us with what more they need to override the veto. This bill can change in five minutes. Otherwise, this is it. If the Governor vetoes this bill, teachers and support staff are the only ones in the state who will get nothing,” Berger said.

Democrat response

House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson also released a statement about the Republicans’ proposal.

“When NC Republicans negotiate with other NC Republicans, what you get is a teacher and public school employee pay raise proposal that gives educators LESS than ALL other NC state employees. That is not fair. Our teachers, school employees, and students deserve better,” Jackson said in a statement emailed to The News & Observer.

Cooper spokesperson Ford Porter also responded to the proposal.

“Is this a joke? Republican leaders want sweeping corporate tax cuts and their entire bad budget in exchange for paltry teacher raises that are less than those for other state employees,” Porter said in an email to the N&O.

Cooper’s proposed budget compromise for teacher raises is an average of 8.5% over the next two years.

Cooper signed into law in late August a “mini-budget” bill that included raises averaging 5% for most state employees.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said he has worked over the past several weeks “in good faith” with Berger and his staff on a compromise.

“I have offered my time and expertise to serve as a mediator between Governor Cooper and Senator Berger in the hopes of resolving this budget stalemate,” Blue said in an emailed statement. He said he made an offer on Oct. 23 to Berger that included proposed salaries for teachers and remaining state workers, as well as pension payments to retirees, in hopes both parties would send a mini budget on state worker wages to Cooper that the governor could sign.

“Context matters — and we have made it clear that Democrats will not vote to override the Governor’s veto. Instead, we will work with Republicans to improve the mini-budgets they have proposed,” Blue said.

Blue’s offer included a 6.5% teacher raise over two years, a 1.5% cost of living adjustment for state employee retirees each of the next two years and a 2.5% raise each year for non-certified school employees.

Both chambers are expected to vote on the bill on Thursday before adjourning for at least a few weeks.

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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.