Raleigh, N.C. — If there was any doubt on where Gov. Pat McCrory stood on the current budget negotiations, he erased it Wednesday afternoon on the campus of Shaw University.
McCrory heaped praise on House Speaker Thom Tillis for calling teachers and superintendents to testify to the budget conference committee that is working out differences between the House and Senate, while lambasting senators for walking out of the room.
"I am disappointed that the Senate walked out on superintendents and teachers," McCrory said after meeting with his Education Cabinet at Shaw. "We need to listen to them, not walk out on them."
In addition to style, the governor has also backed the substance of the House plans to raise teacher salaries 5 percent while also covering other needs in state government. Senate leaders have proposed an 11 percent teacher pay hike that, in some drafts of the budget, would be paid for by cutting teaching assistants and paring back Medicaid spending. Senators said Wednesday morning they believe they could both keep teaching assistants and raise teacher pay 11 percent, but they did not offer a detailed plan of how that might work.
Asked if he thought an 11 percent raise was realistic, McCrory said, "No, no it's not realistic for the long term."
For their part, senators did not seem to register the criticism.
"Senate conferees' number one priority for this budget is to provide teachers with an 11 percent pay raise - and they made a major concession on tenure and offered to fully fund teacher assistants in order to achieve that important goal," said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger. "It's unfortunate that some folks want to ignore this progress and focus on scoring cheap political points instead of supporting the largest teacher pay raise in state history."
McCrory said the raise would both require cuts to other areas of state government that could present long-term problems and pose a hardship for counties, which would have to find the money for raises for teachers paid for by local tax dollars.
"We've got to look at the cause and effect of everything. You can't look at one thing in a silo," he said.
Asked if he thought he might be antagonizing the Senate, whose members said they were ready to hold out to Christmas in order to get a budget deal, McCrory said he didn't care.
"You know what? My job as governor is to lead and express the viewpoint of the people I've been listening to," he said. "Not only that, as governor I've got cabinet members, and we've got educators here who have to implement the policies in the budget that are passed. It would be irresponsible of me not to speak out when I disagree with others."