State Politics

$1,000 state employee raises, varied teacher raises in NC House budget

Budget Chair: GOP has learned lessons of the Great Recession

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and chief budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, discuss GOP fiscal priorities as embodied in the budget proposal working its way through the N.C. House of Representative this week.
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House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and chief budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, discuss GOP fiscal priorities as embodied in the budget proposal working its way through the N.C. House of Representative this week.

Most state employees would get a $1,000 raise under the N.C. House budget released Tuesday night, while teachers would get raises ranging from 1 percent to 6 percent – depending on their years of experience.

The pay raise details were the last pieces of the House budget proposal to be unveiled as the full budget document was posted online after 10 p.m. Tuesday. The House Appropriations Committee approved the plan Wednesday after making dozens of minor changes, and votes on the House floor are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

The plan would then have to be reconciled with a budget that has passed the Senate. Republicans control both the House and Senate.

State worker raises

House proposal: The budget says that “most state employees” will receive a $1,000 salary increase in the fiscal year beginning in July, with another $1,000 raise coming the following year. If included in the final budget, that approach would differ from the traditional percentage-based pay raises in past budget cycles, and House budget writer Nelson Dollar said that the move came at the suggestion of the State Employees Association of North Carolina “in an effort to try to raise pay for some of the lower salary classifications.”

SEANC noted on Twitter that the two-year increase represents a 5 percent raise for the average state worker, but the group urged the House to do more. “State employees are worth more than 48 cents an hour, and that’s all they would get from the House budget,” SEANC lobbyist Ardis Watkins said.

The House also wants to give state employees a “bonus” leave of five days.

How it compares: Under the Senate budget, those state employees would get raises of either $750 or 1.5 percent of their salary, whichever is greater. Under Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget, state workers who are not teachers would receive raises of 2 percent or $800, whichever is more, and a $500 one-time bonus.

Teacher raises

House proposal: The budget would provide the biggest raises to mid-career teachers, although teachers at all experience levels would get raises under the proposed salary chart. Starting pay would increase from $35,000 to $35,300, and teachers with more than 25 years of experience would get a 0.6 percent raise of $300.

While raises for some early-career teachers would be around 1 percent, the biggest raises in the House plan would go to teachers with between 17 and 19 years of experience, with raises as high as 6.7 percent, or nearly $3,000. The average teacher raise is 3.3 percent, according to Dollar, a Cary Republican.

“In the past, we’ve worked on raising the entry level salary, we’ve worked on raising teachers that are in those mid-career years where we’re concerned about people leaving the profession,” Dollar said. “This proposal works a little more on the veteran teachers.”

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore gives an update on his chamber's budget proposal, which will be completed this week.

The House plan would create a retention bonus of up to $5,000 for teachers with 27 years of experience or more – if they agree to teach for an additional two years.

Pay for school principals would be tied to a formula that includes the school’s size, the person’s level of experience and the percentage of students at the school who receive free or reduced lunch.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, discusses the thinking used by House budget writers to structure step raises and retention bonuses for North Carolina teachers during a press conference on Thursday, June 1, 2017.

How it compares: Under the teacher salaries proposed by Senate leaders, starting pay would remain at $35,000, and teachers with 25 years experience or more would not get a raise. The biggest raises – up to 4.8 percent – would go to teachers with nine to 14 years of experience. Teachers with one to three years and 20 to 24 years experience would see the smallest raises of less than 2 percent. But the Senate’s average teacher raise is slightly higher than the House proposal: 3.7 percent.

Cooper’s budget would increase starting teacher pay from $35,000 to $36,750, providing raises to teachers at every experience level, ranging from 3.1 percent to 6.1 percent.

The N.C. Association of Educators called the Democratic governor’s plan “a strong blueprint” and voiced concerns with the raises offered in the House budget.

“The House salary proposal is better than the Senate’s for our school personnel like teacher assistants and bus drivers and it recognizes the contributions of our experienced educators, but in many steps doesn’t even cover the costs of the health insurance premium increases,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said. “There is enough revenue to take the best of all the plans and make bolder investments in our public schools instead of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.”

SEANC suggests the salary increase funding be distributed evenly among all state workers, including teachers. “Taking the entire amount for teachers and state employees the House budget spends in years one and two and dividing it among all employees would give every teacher and every state employee $2,000 this year and $2,000 next year,” Watkins said. “This is easily done without raising the legislature’s self-imposed spending cap and would change lives.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced in February that his budget will call for 5 percent teacher raises on average this year and next – with a goal of raising pay to the national average in five years. Cooper’s plan would cost $813 million ove

Retirees, disaster relief

▪ State retirees would get a 1.6 percent, one-time cost-of-living increase in their pensions under the House budget, but wouldn’t receive one under the Senate plan. And while the Senate wants to eliminate retirement medical benefits for state employees who are hired in the future, the House makes no such change.

▪ Both the House and Senate budgets include $150 million in disaster relief to help victims of Hurricane Matthew. Both budgets also include $15 million for the state’s film grant program.

▪ While the Senate would add about $363 million to the state’s “rainy-day fund” savings, the House budget includes $263 million.

▪ Both House and Senate budgets would provide tax cuts. Among other changes, both of those tax cuts would increase the standard deduction, or the amount of income on which taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions will pay no income tax. The Senate tax cut would also lower the personal income tax rate.

House chief budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, discuss differences between House and Senate versions of the state budget and how negotiations between the two chambers are likely to unfold.

Cooper issued a statement blasting the House’s entire $22.9 billion budget plan Wednesday on the eve of the first floor vote. “This House budget shortchanges our state at a time when we don’t have to,” he said in a news release. “It falls far short of what is needed on education and jobs, and I urge the House to do better for our families.”

But House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news release that he’s “very proud that the House continues to raise teacher pay and at the same time live within the budget, invest in core services and return savings to the taxpayers thanks to robust economic growth.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter