State Politics

NC state budget deal includes raises for state employees, teachers

A compromise North Carolina state budget would give teachers an average pay raise of 3.3 percent in the coming year, and would raise most other state employees’ pay by a flat $1,000.

Retired state employees would receive a 1 percent, permanent cost-of-living increase in their pension checks – a big change from the one-time increase in the House budget and the lack of an increase in the Senate budget.

Budget writers announced the compromise plan Monday. Votes are expected later this week in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, with the Senate voting as earlier as Tuesday. The plan would have to pass both chambers a second time if Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes the plan; a veto override would require support from three-fifths of lawmakers present and voting.

The spending plan for the fiscal year beginning in July is said to total “roughly $23 billion” – an exact figure wasn’t released, but the spending level appears to be higher than the $22.9 billion budgets passed in the House and Senate earlier this year. GOP leaders said the figure represents a 3 percent increase from the current fiscal year.

Under the teacher pay plan, teachers with 17 to 24 years of experience would see some of the biggest raises. Starting teacher pay would remain at $35,000, but teachers at most experience levels would get a raise. That’s similar to the original House plan, while the original Senate plan had allocated the biggest raises to teachers with nine to 14 years of experience.

Teachers with more than 25 years of experience would get an annual bonus of $385, and new teachers with a high grade-point average or test scores would be eligible for a higher starting salary – if they teach in a low-performing school or teach special education, science, technology, math or engineering.

Teacher pay raises would average 9.6 percent over two years, with the goal of having average salaries reach $55,000 by 2020.

The budget would make a series of tax cuts in 2019 – a delay from earlier House and Senate tax cut proposals that would have taken effect in 2018. It would reduce the personal income tax rate from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent and raise the standard deduction – the amount on which people pay no income taxes unless they itemize – to $20,000 for married couples filing jointly from $17,500. It would also lower the corporate income tax rate to 2.5 percent from 3 percent.

Budget writers said the plan would cut by 75 percent a wait list for subsidized pre-kindergarten by adding 3,525 additional slots.

It also includes a plan to “raise the age” for 16- and 17-year-old criminal suspects who would be charged in the juvenile justice system starting in December 2019. Those charged with serious felonies would still face prosecution in the adult court system.

The budget does not cut the Governor’s School of North Carolina, according to budget writers, although the Senate had included cuts in its budget. A proposed $4 million cut to the UNC School of Law in the Senate budget has been softened to a $500,000 cut in the final budget.

Funding for Eastern North Carolina STEM, a Northampton County summer program for disadvantaged teens, is included after being cut in a 3 a.m. amendment to the Senate budget. And a Senate proposal to shut down the Wright School, a Durham school for children with disabilities, isn’t in the final budget.

The compromise includes $10 million for opioid and substance abuse treatment centers across the state, which is substantially more than the previous House and Senate plans allocated.

Cooper issued a statement Monday criticizing the budget, although he didn’t say if he’ll veto it. “While we wait for details, the budget outlined by legislative leaders continues to shortchange education, economic development, and middle class families in favor of more tax giveaways that help the wealthy and large corporations,” spokesman Ford Porter said in a news release. “Those are the wrong priorities.”

House Speaker Tim Moore called on Cooper to support the budget. “Gov. Cooper will sign this budget if he cares about increasing the zero-tax bracket for low-income North Carolinians, keeping a long-term commitment to increasing teacher pay, providing disaster relief to hurricane-hit regions and protecting the state from future emergencies through smart savings and responsible spending,” Moore said in a news release.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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