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McCrory signs NC budget changes into law

MONROE (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory signed a budget Thursday that he says fulfills his promise to increase average teacher salaries above $50,000.

McCrory held a ceremony at a Union County elementary school to sign the $22.3 billion state spending plan the General Assembly sent him two weeks ago on the last day of its annual work session. McCrory’s signing was expected — he never made any public pronouncements against the proposal, which adjusts the second year of the two-year budget approved last September.

The measure raises teacher pay by 4.7 percent on average and should increase the expected teacher salary from all funding sources — including local supplements — to above $50,150, according to a budget document created by the General Assembly’s nonpartisan fiscal staff.

The final teacher pay provision hammered out by House and Senate Republican budget writers differs from McCrory’s proposal, which also had included large one-time bonuses. The measure, however, does provide performance-based bonuses for third-grade and some high school teachers.

Rank-and-file state employees also get a 1.5 percent pay raise and bonuses of at least 0.5 percent. There are also income tax cuts through higher standard deductions of $1,000 to $2,000 — depending on one’s filing status — that will be phased in this year and next.

There was no tax cut or across-the-board raises for state employees in McCrory’s original budget proposal, released at a time when there was a predicted $237 million surplus in the previous year’s budget. The surplus ultimately grew to $425 million.

The law puts aside $474 million more in the state’s rainy-day reserve fund. It also directs three University of North Carolina campuses to begin offering $1,000-a-year in-state tuition and $5,000-a-year out-of-state tuition in fall 2018 and all campuses to fix tuition rates for incoming freshmen this fall while they get bachelor’s or five-year degrees.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, praised the Republican governor for signing the bill.

Thursday’s focus was primarily on the teacher raises, an issue that spilled over into the gubernatorial race between McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.

The governor was surrounded by teachers, local officials and legislators as he signed the bill. Behind them was a banner that read “Teacher Pay to $50K.”

McCrory’s campaign soon after announced an online ad campaign with teachers praising the governor for the pay raises and those in recent years under Republican control of state government. Campaign manager Russell Peck said Cooper allowed the public schools and teacher pay to decline while in the legislature previously and in state government: This budget “continues to right the wrongs under Roy Cooper and previous leadership.”

But Cooper’s campaign said the budget didn’t go far enough to help teachers who are being plucked out of their classrooms from districts in other states. The campaign pointed to a projection by the nonpartisan Public School Forum of North Carolina that North Carolina’s average pay will jump from ninth among 13 Southeastern states to seventh.

Thursday’s event was “vintage Pat McCrory: a campaign-style rally with a giant banner paid for with taxpayer money, touting a plan that makes big promises but doesn’t actually get the job done,” Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said in a news release.

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