Raleigh, N.C. — The State Employees Association of North Carolina, the union that represents many state employees, is letting House lawmakers know they're unhappy with the budget they've written thus far.
The group began airing a radio ad on Raleigh stations today accusing the House of going back on a deal to allow for a cost of living allowance, or COLA, for those in the state retirement system.
"Promises matter," says the announcer. "Well, House Republicans in Raleigh seem to have forgotten how that work. Last year they made a promise to our seniors and retirees that they would fund retirement. Now, they want to break that promise with a new budget that would take away money for things like food, medicine and rent."
The money in question was put into the two-year budget plan last year and would have gone to fund the state retirement system. In the interim, the retirement system has earned money on its investments as well. State retirees were hopeful that this confluence of events would mean a COLA of somewhere around 1.9 percent for the coming year.
But instead of leaving the money in the retirement system, House lawmakers have shifted $62.3 million to help reduce cuts to education. The net effect is to allow earnings from the retirement system to keep pension payments steady, but there would be no cost of living increase under this plan.
"The House leadership and the GOP are trying to play games," said Dana Cope, SEANC's executive director. He noted that state retirees haven't gotten a cost of living increase since 2008. Cope said that House leaders, including House Speaker Thom Tillis, assured them that the COLA would be left in the budget as recently as February.
Asked about this maneuver, House Budget Committee Chairman Harold Brubaker acknowledges it was a change from what lawmakers had planned the year before.
"We felt this was needed back in the budget," he said.
Cope said the ads were meant to help move the conversation at the General Assembly. While SEANC hasn't exactly been a Republican ally in recent years, some of the group's involvement in legislative races have targeted prominent Democrats such as former House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman. Asked if SEANC was surprised that Republicans were rebuffing the group like this, Cope said no.
"We're going to hold politicians accountable regardless of their party," Cope said, adding that he had "wonderful" relationships with both House and Senate GOP leaders.