Raleigh, N.C. — State employees will get promised one-time bonuses in their October paychecks, the Office of State Human Resources announced in a memo Monday, prompting some to speculate if the timing might not have political significance.
A single 0.5 percent lump-sum bonus, as well as any performance bonuses, will arrive for most state employees at the end of October, timing that puts it squarely in the middle of North Carolina's early voting period and less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 Election Day.
Critics of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory say the pay bumps appear to be aimed at currying the favor of North Carolina's more than 62,000 full-time state workers when they go to the polls.
"It's too little too late for McCrory with state employees," said Ardis Watkins, the chief lobbyist for the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
"They've not been part of any Carolina Comeback," she added, naming one of McCrory's signature campaign themes.
A McCrory campaign spokesman denied the timing of the raises has anything to do with politics.
"This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the success of Governor McCrory's policies which have helped to grow the economy, impose fiscal responsibility on state government and deliver major budget surpluses that can be used to invest in education, teachers, state employees, transportation and other key priorities," spokesman Ricky Diaz said.
McCrory faces Democrat Roy Cooper and Libertarian Lon Cecil in this fall's campaign. Recent polling averages show McCrory trailing Cooper in the contest.
The state budget signed by McCrory included both a 1.5 percent pay increase as well as two sets of one-time bonuses.
According to the memo, signed by Interim Human Resources Director Paula Woodhouse, employees on the job as of Sept. 1 will be eligible for the 0.5 percent lump-sum bonuses. For a state worker who makes $40,000, roughly the state government average, that would be a $200 bonus.
Qualifying employees who have received the proper evaluations will receive an additional one-time $475 payment if they were rated "meets expectations" or $700 if they were rated "exceeds expectations."
Those bonuses were promised as part of the budget that passed this summer. Budget writers originally projected the extra payments would arrive in December in time for Christmas.
"If there were an election every month, teachers and state employees would be really riding high," said Dave Miranda, a spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party. "Unfortunately, Governor McCrory treats paying these employees as an election-year gimmick."
McCrory's government office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Diaz called the accusation "ridiculous" and said he didn't know about the bonus memo until asked about it by WRAL News.
"Compare our state's success to what we're seeing in Virginia, where under Roy Cooper-style big government policies, they have a $1.5 billion budget shortfall that's forcing their governor to make drastic cuts to programs and cancel promised pay increases for teachers," Diaz said.
Asked about the timing of the bonuses, Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said, "There is no doubt that state employees deserve a bonus. But state employee and teacher pay should be more than just a political bargaining chip. We need a Governor with a real plan to offer competitive pay for our state employees and teachers every year and not just the month before an election."