Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory has spent much of the past three weeks touting a pay raise for teachers, but lawmakers of all stripes questioned Wednesday morning why he didn't set aside more for other state employees.
Budget Director Andrew Heath met with members of the House and the Senate to pitch a $22.3 billion spending plan. By and large, it's not a big departure from the spending plan passed for the fiscal year that ends on June 30.
The signature item that McCrory has highlighted in news conferences over the past three weeks has been an average 5 percent salary increase for teachers. Once supplements paid by local school districts are factored in, Heath said, the average teacher salary in North Carolina would be $50,000.
2016-17 Governor's Budget Book Republican and Democratic lawmakers from both the House and the Senate generally applauded the effort to raise teacher pay, but questioned why McCrory was not making a similar move with regard to state workers. McCrory includes $27 million to bring the state's salary adjustment fund to $40 million, money that is used to hold onto employees in hard-to-recruit positions. The budget also sets aside money for an average 3 percent bonus for all state employees.
"How do you give an increase to teachers statewide of 5 percent and not do the same for state employees?" asked Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union. "At my own company, I couldn't give one group of people a raise and not give the other people the same raise across the board."
Heath said it was a question of priorities.
"The governor wants to invest in teacher pay above other sectors of North Carolina," he said.
Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland, asked whether lawmakers couldn't consider finding ways to both give teachers a raise and raise salaries for state workers.
"I am very certain that option will be considered strongly," House Budget Chairman Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, replied.
Not all state employees would go without a pay raise under McCrory's plan. For example, McCrory did include funding to provide experienced-based pay raises for state troopers, an average 5 percent pay raise for State Bureau of Investigation and Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement agents and a $10 million pool of funding to raise salaries for correctional officers.
Where the money comes from
Lawmakers are expected to continue picking through the governor's budget on Thursday and next week. Then they will draft their own versions of a state spending plan.
McCrory got money for the proposed teacher raises and other spending increases from two main places. One, Heath said, was higher-than-expected individual income tax collections, despite a recent cut in tax rates.
As well, the governor projected that growth in spending on Medicaid, the joint federal-state program for the poor and disabled, would slow down. A combination of slowing enrollment – fewer people using the program – as well as lower than expected utilization rates – how often people with Medicaid seek treatment – gave the state $319 million to use on other items.
But Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, questioned whether that "rebase" figure was correct, noting that there had been increases in Medicaid spending this spring.
"Where do you think this rebase is going to come in, and when do you think we'll have a consensus agreement on what that number will be?" Hise asked.
Heath replied that he believes the number would stay as is.
Another number crucial to the budget will be the consensus revenue forecast, which will be affected by the tax returns filed in mid-April. Dollar said that overall number should be available sometime next week.