Democrats annoyed at Republican's budget process
North Carolina's legislative leaders released their budget for the next year Monday night, on the tail end of the Memorial Day weekend. And because they have already said they plan to refuse any amendments or other attempts to change the budget, this plan is likely to become law as-is.
The top Republicans in the legislature, Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Tim Moore, have previously said they plan to hold a vote on the budget this week. As long as enough of their fellow Republicans go along with that plan in the next few days, the budget will pass and can also survive a potential veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, since Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
A committee of legislators from both the Senate and House spent Tuesday morning and some of the afternoon asking questions about the budget, which many of them had just seen for the first time on Monday night.
"Preventing input from the body is no way to run a state — precisely why this has never been done," Democratic Rep. Chaz Beasley of Charlotte wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. "Silencing the membership is wrong, regardless of who’s in charge."
Cooper vetoed the budget last year, but Republicans had enough votes then, too, to override his veto. That budget was a two-year plan that included both the current fiscal year and a rough draft of the budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. The budget bill now under consideration makes adjustments to the spending plan for the coming fiscal year.
Here are some of the highlights of the bill.
The budget includes a 6.5 percent average pay raise for teachers and a 6.9 percent average raise for principals.
Principals would also now be able to receive performance-based bonuses of up to $20,000 a year. Some teachers in select grades and subjects would also be able to receive performance-based bonuses of up to $2,000.
In a press release Monday night, Berger said: "Cooper and legislative Democrats should add their support to this plan that prioritizes public education, provides a fifth consecutive teacher pay raise and offers substantial tax relief for millions of North Carolinians.”
However, Cooper and his fellow Democrats had laid out plans for an even higher teacher pay raise of 8 percent, on average.
Cooper's plan is slightly more generous to teachers in their first five years on the job, and then both he and the legislature have the same figures for raises in the next 10 years of a teacher's career. But once teachers hit their 15th year on the job, Cooper's plan would again become more generous.
Under the pay scale rolled out by Republican lawmakers, all teachers would make a base salary of $50,000 for their careers between 15 and 24 years of experience, and then when they reach 25 years of experience their base salary would be capped at $52,000.
Under Cooper's plan, teachers would also make a base salary of $50,000 a year after 15 years of experience, but they'd get small raises every year through the next decade, ultimately reaching $52,000 at year 24, then continue to receive raises even after 25 years of experience, before reaching the cap at 30 years, with a base salary just short of $55,000.
Republicans want to prioritize performance-based bonuses instead. They said earlier that their budget would also set aside $22 million for performance-based bonuses for reading teachers in 4th and 5th grades, and math teachers in 4th through 8th grades, based on their students' test scores.
Those bonuses can be up to $2,000 a year, which is down from the budget passed last year, when the bonuses for teachers could be as high as $2,150.
Mark Jewell, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said he thinks last week's large teacher protests contributed to the raises in this budget, although he criticized the plan to spend money on bonuses instead of raises, especially for veteran teachers.
"While there has been some very modest movement for our most experienced educators in the General Assembly’s budget, they continue to be disrespected with raises that shortchange their commitment to our students and this state," Jewell said. "Instead, this General Assembly will spend almost twice as much on a pay-for-performance bonus scheme than on serious raises for experienced educators."
State employee raises
Last week legislative leaders said they planned to ensure that every full-time state employee makes at least $15 an hour, which equates to $31,200 a year.
They also said every state employee will receive at least a 2 percent raise, and some employees like prison workers and Highway Patrol troopers will get bigger raises.
Some state employees, in a plan unrelated to these budget discussions, already started receiving pay raises this month in an effort to recruit and retain people in high-turnover jobs.
The budget will set aside another $60 million for Hurricane Matthew recovery, in addition to the billions of state and federal money already appropriated to help eastern North Carolina rebound from the 2016 storm.
Republicans have recently criticized Cooper for what they call a slow pace of recovery, although Cooper has defended his administration's work.
The budget bill would also add $161 million to the state's "rainy day fund" for future emergencies, bringing that fund up to about $2 billion total.
“These budget adjustments secure a strong financial future for North Carolina by sustainably increasing state investments while ensuring relief for taxpayers, a balanced approach that has consistently proven successful in growing our economy, producing revenue surpluses and saving a record rainy day reserve,” Moore said in a Monday night press release.
There do not appear to be any major changes to the tax laws in the making this year. Republicans had previously passed laws that lowered the income tax rate for individuals and corporations starting next year.
Cooper had suggested paying for his larger teacher raises by letting those income tax cuts go into effect for every person, but not for all income levels. Any income that people earned above $200,000 would remain taxed at this year's rate, according to Cooper's plan, which would also similarly freeze the corporate tax rate.
Republicans criticized that proposal quickly after Cooper proposed it, and it's highly unlikely they will adopt his ideas in their budget.