Raleigh, N.C. — On the first day of the fiscal year, with no budget deal in sight, House and Senate Democrats say GOP leaders could jump-start stalled negotiations by opening them to the public.
House Minority Leader Larry Hall and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue held a news conference Tuesday to blast the budget impasse, which they say is causing uncertainty for local governments and school districts trying to plan and hire teachers for the upcoming year.
"The governor, Thom Tillis, Phil Berger all pledged to raise teacher pay this session and be done by July 1," Hall, D-Durham, said, referring to the House and Senate leaders. "Well, now it's July 1. There's no budget, no teacher pay raise, no clear path forward, not even conferees meeting."
Blue, D-Wake, criticized the governor's budget for giving raises to starting teachers but not veteran educators, the Senate proposal for cutting blind, elderly and disabled people off Medicaid and the House budget for "gambling" on increased lottery revenues that lottery officials said were unrealistic.
"So, we've had the weak, the inhumane and the downright dishonest," Blue said.
When the latest plan was unveiled last week by Gov. Pat McCrory and Tillis, "They patted themselves on the back" for including teacher pay raises, Blue said.
"Only they failed to invite or even consult with the Senate leadership, which everybody from the third grade forward knows is necessary to pass legislation in this state," he said.
Blue and Hall also blamed last year's GOP tax cuts for the quandary in which budget writers find themselves this year. Most of the benefit of the 2013 cuts went to high-income earners.
"It's obvious to most folks that, if you give away a substantial amount of the money – over half a billion dollars a year – to your very wealthy friends and out-of-state corporations, it’s not going to be there when you need it to fund the teacher pay raises," Blue said. "It’s time to admit when you’ve done a bad and start doing the right thing, and this giveaway last year to out-of-state corporations and very wealthy folk got us in this predicament, and it’s time for us to start fixing it."
Blue and Hall urged House and Senate leaders to open the budget talks to the public and to seek input from more experienced Democratic budget writers. They said the change might help GOP leaders stop "talking past each other" and start working on a compromise.
"It's time to open conference negotiations and seriously put teachers first," Blue said. "These guys ran for office. It's time to expect them to lead."
Senate leaders have also called for negotiations to be open to the public.
Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver confirmed Tuesday that no negotiations have taken place since the Senate made that call last week.
"Sen. Berger has said the Senate’s position is that conference committee negotiations need to be open to the public," Carver said. "We hope the governor will join the Senate in demanding this change to Raleigh’s culture."
McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis responded, "The Senate leadership can begin changing Raleigh's culture by allowing their members to have an open, transparent debate and vote on a bill that received unanimous, bipartisan support in the House."