Raleigh, N.C. — Five weeks after the beginning of the fiscal year, Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday signed into law the state's $21.1 billion budget bill that was approved by lawmakers last week.
The 260-page measure includes a $1,000 raise for most rank-and-file state workers, and teachers will get a raise that legislative leaders say amounts, on average, to 7 percent, including longevity pay that many teachers were already due.
Actual raises will range from less than 1 percent to more than 18 percent, depending on how long a teacher has been in the profession.
The budget also factors in a supplement for board-certified teachers and continues a pay bump for teachers with master's degrees and those who began work toward an advanced degree by Aug. 1, 2013.
State retirees will receive a 1 percent cost-of-living increase under the compromise plan.
The budget moves the State Bureau of Investigation from the Department of Justice, which is overseen by Attorney General Roy Cooper, to the Department of Public Safety, which is overseen by a McCrory appointee. However, Cooper will retain oversight of the State Crime Lab.
McCrory said Thursday that the deal fulfills promises made by Republican leaders.
"North Carolina is on the comeback, and I’m proud of that comeback, and I’m proud of the state employees, and I’m proud of the teachers that have been part of this process," the governor said at the signing ceremony. "We’re rewarding them for the first time in many years in a sufficient and effective way. We’re showing them respect while also understanding some of the challenges that we still have in the private sector and recognizing their hard work also."
He defended the deal against critics who've questioned the teacher and state employee pay raises and the cuts made in other areas to pay for them.
"There are a lot of people who voted against this bill," he said. "They thought a better job could be done, but the fact of the matter is, I asked the critics, 'Where has been your alternative budget?' I would have welcomed that alternative budget.
"I ask you the question as we had to ask the legislature in many, many discussions: When you add something to the budget, what are you going to take away or what tax increases are you going to implement?" he said.
"As governor, I also have to be sensitive to the private sector," he continued. "The private sector employs many in manufacturing and travel and tourism and agriculture and professions – even including journalism – who are not getting these types of pay raises, who do not have pensions, who do not have the benefits we have and that have never heard of the term 'longevity pay,' which is still in place in the state of North Carolina."
McCrory took a very specific dig at North Carolina Association of Educators President Rodney Ellis, who's been a vocal critic of the changes in teacher pay and longevity bonuses.
"The head of the current teachers' union continues to criticize this budget, even though his salary, I assume, is much higher than any teacher in North Carolina," McCrory said.
Asked whether that was true, NCAE spokeswoman Linda Powell declined to confirm it.
“The salaries of NCAE leadership are determined by NCAE’s governing documents, which are adopted by elected member representatives. The salaries reflect the responsibilities and obligations expected of these offices,” Powell said in an emailed statement.
Those documents are not open to the public, she said.
McCrory also noted that the budget includes no reductions in Medicaid eligibility for current enrollees and said it maintains last year's funding for teachers and teacher assistants, although there are more students in North Carolina classrooms this year than last.
However, several large school districts have already announced they will have to eliminate teacher assistant positions to balance their books due to other cuts in state funding for schools.