Do North Carolina’s Republican legislators really believe that a one-time, before-tax $750 bonus is going to keep teachers in the state and draw more in coming years? That it will cause other state employees to cheer? This isn’t Wonderland.
This is a state where teacher salaries have been stagnant for six years, where the much-boasted-about raises for beginning teachers have been a point of pride for Republican lawmakers who act as if bringing starting and early-career teachers to the national salary average – while the overall average remains among the nation’s lowest – is some kind of act of monumental generosity.
It’s not. The agreement reached by the House and Senate giving state employees and teachers that bonus is embarrassing. And it is a sad commentary indeed on a virtual collapse by the House and Speaker Tim Moore, who had noble ambitions to spend more money in the wake of a Great Recession from which many residents have yet to recover. Moore and his chamber had wanted to give state employees a 2 percent across-the-board boost, which many haven’t seen in years.
There was a hint from Moore’s office that there would be better raises next year, something state employees couldn’t be blamed for viewing with skepticism. Of course, next year is an election year. Oh, yeah.
The original House budget plan that included a 5 percent budget increase, in the context of a $400 million-plus surplus, was entirely reasonable. But Senate leader Phil Berger brought Moore and his members into line with a compromise on total spending that wasn’t much of a compromise at all. Berger showed Moore who was boss, and Moore backed down.
The speaker could have made a strong case in advocating a larger raise for state employees and teachers, something that, unlike a bonus, would have boosted retirement benefits, for one example. Moore and his chamber have demonstrated at least a measure of willingness to listen to all views. Berger rules with an iron hand and with virtually no tolerance for views other than his own and those of his closest advisers.
This bonus deal represents not consensus or compromise, just the heavy hand of the Senate’s all-powerful leader.