Education, coal ash top state Senate priorities

Posted May 8, 2014

— Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger calls Gov. Pat McCrory's proposal to raise teacher pay "promising," particularly endorsing a rearrangement of the state's pay scale so that teachers more quickly advance through the salary tables. 

But don't look for the legislature to adopt the plan wholesale. 

"It is my expectation in adopting a balanced budget we will have the capacity (for) not only what we have promised up to this point, but our expectation is we'll be able to go further," Berger said at a Thursday news conference. "I don't want to say we'll adopt the governor's plan. I think that's something the members will need to go through and review, but I think teacher compensation and addressing a compensation increase for employees is one of those priorities that we have." 

What lawmakers have promised so far is a plan that would raise salaries for teachers in their first 10 years of the profession. McCrory's plan, released Wednesday, would build on that by both giving an average 2 percent raise to all teachers, restructure the teacher salary scale and create a system under which teachers with certain advanced degrees or leadership responsibilities could earn more.

McCrory has said he also wants to give a $1,000 raise to all state workers. Berger emphasized that raises for teachers and state workers are on the legislative agenda, but said they may not necessarily take the form prescribed by McCrory.

North Carolina raises and spends $20 billion in state taxes every year, plus billions more in federal tax grants. The main purposes of this year's "short" legislative session, which opens next Wednesday, is to make changes to the budget.

Although there is no hard and fast deadline, lawmakers generally expect to end their work for the year shortly before July 4. In general, lawmakers try to limit the number of issues taken up during sessions that take place in the summer of even-numbed years, often deferring thornier issues until the "long" sessions of odd-numbered years.

The budget generally, and teacher pay specifically, tops the agenda for most legislative leaders this year. With 50 members of the Senate and 120 members of the state House, there are no shortage of ideas and of local priorities and personal hobby-horses that lawmakers will push. However, some priorities are more equal than others, especially when they come from leaders like Berger. Here are five more areas he said will be top of mind when lawmakers return to work this year:

Medicaid: The state's health insurance program for the poor and disabled is a perennial thorn in the side of budget writers, and this year appears to be no exception. Lawmakers say they expect to have to spend between $90 million and $130 million to patch a hole in this year's budget, which means they will also have to budget more for the 2014-15 budget year, which begins on July 1. 

"We've made that point in the past that Medicaid has had the tendency to crowd out our ability to do some things," Berger said.

Dealing with that shortfall, and preventing a similar one in the future, will be a significant part of the budget process, he said. 

That said, don't expect a major shift in Medicaid budget policy this year. A committee appointed by the governor, Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis recommended the state create accountable care organizations – physician groups that would collect a flat fee to care for Medicaid patients. Berger said that suggestion doesn't go far enough. 

"That may very will be something that will have to wait until the longer session in 2015," he said. 

Coal ash: The Feb. 2 coal ash spill on the Dan River was "in my back yard – quite literally in my back yard," Berger said. 

Lawmakers, he said, would move forward with a bill that not only ensured that Duke Energy cleaned up the Dan River spill but did something to ensure similar incidents don't occur at 13 others locations through North Carolina where the company has coal ash stored in ponds.

"We need to have a solution that ensures coal ash is not going to be a potential problem for our drinking water supplies. That means our rivers, our groundwaters, all of those things," he said. 

Taxes: After last year's sweeping tax bill, Berger said he did not expect any sweeping tax changes this year. He and others involved in tax legislation said there would be minor changes and clarifications, but there aren't plans for a new tax push, he said.  

Fracking: Expect natural gas exploration and drilling, particularly the use of hydraulic fracturing, to be back on the agenda. 

"We want to see North Carolina receive the same kinds of benefits we're seeing in other states in terms of the creation of jobs and the infusion of capital into the economy," Berger said.

Asked if that meant removing the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing now in place, he replied, "I think that would be something that would be beneficial in moving forward." 

Regulatory reform: Over the past three years, lawmakers have repeatedly put forward measures they said were aimed at paring back rules and regulations, particularly those that hamper business activity. Last year, for example, lawmakers ordered a review of all regulations currently in place and gave agencies a mechanism to do away with unneeded regulatory rules. 

Berger said there would once again be bills in that spirit, but could not say what specific legislation might be proposed.


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  • funnything May 13, 2014

    anyone here paying attention to what is happening to gov. brownback and republican legislature in kansas? we are next. no doubt. kansas is 92m. in the hole due to tax cuts for the rich, we here in NC are already 450m. in the hole for the same reason. it's just a matter of time 'til we get downgraded as well. (moody's wasted no time down grading kansas bond ratings)


  • tracmister May 9, 2014

    The budget they NCGA passed last year includes cuts to education this year which has more teachers not getting their jobs back and class sizes increasing again. Let's not only find ways to help state employees and teachers, but lets also help the children.

  • Alan Baker May 9, 2014
    user avatar

    "McCrory has said he also wants to give a $1,000 raise to all state workers."

    So, in other words, no real raise at all.

  • Teresa Engel May 9, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Spot on! I thought the same thing. He and the members of the GA are playing the dog and pony show. Attack teachers and the environment one year, then the next year the governor does an about-face, pretending to be a proponent of them. And the GA plays the bad guy by not funding his proposals. And back and forth, ad nauseum. They all make me sick!

  • miseem May 8, 2014

    Funny, last year the Governor and the NCGA were in attack mode on teachers and the environment. Cutting pay for advanced degrees, any job protections, enforcement of environmental rule (hey, why try to reduce the pollution in the Deep and Haw Rivers, lets just put SOLAR powered stirrers in Jordan Lake - that proves we are green). Not to mention totally ignoring the other state employees (except to gripe about the work they were doing and to cut positions). Now, they expect us to believe that they really have education, state workers, and the environment at heart? Reminds me of the tale about the rattlesnake conning a man into taking him across the river - I'll look after you, I've changed my ways. As the man lay dying of snake bite on the other side of the river, the snake said you knew what I was before you took me across. Keep that in mind when you vote for the GOP.

  • rnitschke66 May 8, 2014

    Bait and ... switch!

  • goldenosprey May 8, 2014

    From the article- "We want to see North Carolina receive the same kinds of benefits we're seeing in other states in terms of the creation of jobs and the infusion of capital into the economy," Berger said.

    Like heavy trucks ruining the roads, high rates of traffic fatalities, earthquakes, poison gas leaked in the air, wells with frack fluid seeping in, flammable tap water, fly by night companies hiring out of state workers...

  • recontwice May 8, 2014

    When it comes to helping anybody that not rich all we will get from mc crory is lip service and spin!!

  • jeremyshaner2 May 8, 2014

    “The best man, then, must legislate, and laws must be passed, but these laws will have no authority when they miss the mark, though in all other cases retaining their authority. But when the law cannot determine a point at all, or not well, should the one best man or should all decide? According to our present practice assemblies meet, sit in judgment, deliberate, and decide, and their judgments an relate to individual cases. Now any member of the assembly, taken separately, is certainly inferior to the wise man. But the state is made up of many individuals. And as a feast to which all the guests contribute is better than a banquet furnished by a single man, so a multitude is a better judge of many things than any individual.”
    ― Aristotle, Politics

  • Olenc Native May 8, 2014
    user avatar

    I wrote this yesterday.

    McCrory already knew his proposal wouldn't be accepted, and he's fine with that. He wants to look like the moderate while the General Assembly can appease their Tea Party backers.

    Political theater.

    "Yeah, Pat, we can make you look like the good day. Propose some pay raises for teachers that we can't possibly afford, and then the GA will come in and cut them!"

    Seriously. There's no way McCrory could fund those proposals. He just wants to look like a moderate while the GA keeps NC on the extreme right course it's on right now.