Lawmakers: NC budget deal reached

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2016

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

RALEIGH (AP) — Late Monday, Republicans in North Carolina’s General Assembly announced their agreement on budget adjustments for the upcoming fiscal year containing sizeable average pay raises for all current teachers and across-the-board raises for state employees.

The compromise, portions of which were disclosed by Senate leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and other lawmakers after about three weeks of negotiations, spends a little more than $22.3 billion for the year starting Friday. The legislation also contains increases in the standard deduction this calendar year and in 2017, the lawmakers said, effectively creating tax cuts.

The two chambers will vote in the coming days on the actual measure — expected to be filed late Monday night — that adjusts the second year of the two-year budget approved last fall. Gov. Pat McCrory would be asked to sign any approved measure into law.

“This budget achieves our shared goals with Gov. McCrory — prioritizing teacher pay, cutting taxes on the middle class, controlling the growth of government spending and bolstering our savings,” Berger, R-Rockingham, said at a Legislative Building news conference.

Average pay raises for teachers will be 4.7 percent, with the increases weighted toward mid-career and veteran instructors, said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. But all current teachers would get some kind of raise next fall — from $750 to $5,250, depending on years of experience and where they sit on the most common salary schedule, according to a document from legislative staff.

When local pay supplements are included, average teacher pay statewide would exceed $50,000, in keeping with McCrory’s budget proposal released in April.

“Now it’s just not a goal, it’s a reality in this budget,” said Moore, R-Cleveland. The House sought 4.1 percent average raises with some bonuses in its budget proposal, while the Senate’s offer envisioned average 6.5 percent raises.

In a victory for House negotiators, rank-and-file workers would get at least 1.5 percent raises and small bonuses. Additional permanent merit-based raises would be distributed by agencies. The Senate and McCrory preferred handing out raises to those in high-demand fields or to retain workers. Other law enforcement and judicial workers would see raises, too.

Arguments by Senate Republicans won out with several provisions contained in the final product. A $10 million pilot program would distribute bonuses to third-grade reading teachers whose students see the most growth in test scores. The very best teachers could receive $6,800 bonuses.

Senate provisions directing low tuition for a few University of North Carolina campuses and fee freezes and fixed tuition rates for students at system schools also made the final cut. And the budget increases money for taxpayer-funded scholarships so children in low-income families can attend private or religious schools, and envisions raising the allotment over the next 10 years.

A small revenue surplus, lower-than-projected Medicaid spending and other one-time money provided lawmakers the funds for worker compensation and the standard deductions increase. Another $62 million in money unspent this year by state agencies also allowed them to spend a little more on projects than earlier anticipated, Dollar said.

According to legislators, the budget adjustments also will contain:

• nearly $475 million for the state’s rainy day reserve fund, increasing its balance to nearly $1.6 billion, a record.

• $10 million for the disaster relief fund.

• nearly $500,000 for Zika virus prevention and detection.

• directions to spend $20 million from the sale of the Dorothea Dix hospital property in Raleigh to help children and rural residents with mental illness.

• bonuses to teachers whose students perform well on Advancement Placement and career certification tests.