Raleigh, N.C. — As House and Senate budget negotiators traded offers Thursday, the battle lines sharpened with a veto threat from Gov. Pat McCrory.
Senate leaders' most recent compromise proposal, sent to the House Thursday morning, maintains a teacher pay raise of 11 percent, a number House leaders and McCrory have both said is unsustainable. The Senate offer came on the heels of an offer by the House earlier in the day that would raise teacher salaries by 6 percent.
The Senate would pay for the raise with cuts to teacher assistant positions and Medicaid rolls, although its latest offer includes $170 million that House leaders could choose to use to shore up either of those areas.
McCrory said in a statement he would veto that plan "or any plan that resembles it."
The governor said he would back the House's latest offer, which includes a teacher pay raise of 6 percent, up from 5 percent Wednesday. But, he said, that's as far as he'll go.
"I know of no financial way we can go beyond the House proposal without eliminating thousands of teacher assistants, cutting Medicaid recipients and putting at risk future core state services," he said.
McCrory called the House proposal "a long-term, sustainable and affordable plan in which I stand with our teachers, our students, our principals, our superintendents, business leaders, House Democrats and House Republicans."
"The Senate is currently standing by themselves with no visible support outside of the Beltline of our state capital," he added.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger was unfazed by the threat.
"I’m disappointed the governor would not support the most robust raise we could give our teachers," said Berger, R-Rockingham. "We continue to have that as our No. 1 priority, and what we intend to do is continue to push for the most robust teacher raise that we can put forward."
Asked whether that's true even in light of the threatened veto, Berger said with a smile, "We intend to push for the most robust teacher raise that we can put forward."
He noted later that lawmakers have already overridden two McCrory vetoes.
"It would be more helpful for him to work with members of both chambers of the legislature since his unwillingness to listen to those who have an honest disagreement with him on spending priorities in favor of staging media stunts and budget gimmicks is a major reason the budget has not been finalized,” Berger said in a statement.
The House and Senate did not meet in public Thursday. House negotiators called a meeting Friday morning, but both Berger and Senate budget Chairman Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said they would not attend.
Brown said the House is to blame for the budget stalemate because it's unwilling to consider laying off teacher assistants or cutting Medicaid coverage for sick, disabled and elderly adults.
"Over and over, we have tried to relay to the House that to compromise means to meet somewhere in the middle," Brown said. "We have thrown out different scenarios on how we could do that, and each time that we've done that, the House has come back and pretty much told us that 'We cannot do this. We cannot do this. We cannot do this,’ and made very few compromises."
"We continue to be willing to discuss proposals," Berger said, "but as long as one side basically says 'This is off the table,' I don’t think we've got a whole lot that we can be talking about."
The latest House proposal, sent to the Senate Thursday morning, pushes the proposed teacher pay increase to 6 percent without giving in on its other priorities, House Speaker Thom Tillis said.
The money for the higher teacher salaries comes out of the Department of Health and Human Services budget, but it wasn't exactly clear what was being cut.
Tillis noted the shift isn't coming at the expense of teaching assistants or Medicaid funding.
"We will continue to move towards a budget compromise that fulfills the promises we made to teachers while maintaining classroom resources across the state," Tillis said in a statement.
The House did put forward one compromise Wednesday by revising its projections of state lottery revenue to bring it in line with the Senate's numbers.