State workers, teachers frustrated by drawn-out budget process

Posted October 11, 2021 7:36 p.m. EDT
Updated October 11, 2021 7:38 p.m. EDT

— More than three months into fiscal 2021-22, North Carolina still doesn't have a state budget, frustrating teachers and state employees waiting on raises.

House and Senate leaders are negotiating privately with Gov. Roy Cooper's administration to avoid a repeat of the last two years, when a deadlock kept them from passing a budget at all.

One of the key areas in dispute is the size of raises for teachers and state employees.

For teachers, Cooper proposed a 10 percent raise over two years. The House offered 5.5 percent, and the Senate, just 3 percent.

Teachers haven’t had any raise at all since 2018. Bryan Proffitt, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said Monday that’s hard to stomach when the state has a surplus of nearly $8 billion.

"When I came in, you could count on both a cost-of-living and a step increase every year, and most years that I've been in the profession, we've gotten neither," Proffitt said.

In a recent survey, about half of NCAE members said they have to have a second job to make ends meet.

"People are working 50 or 60 hours a week at their first job, [and] then they have a second job," Proffitt said. "Lots of us have kids, right. So, the reality is, is that people are just at their breaking point."

Proposed raises for state employees are even smaller than for teachers. Cooper proposed a 5 percent raise over two years, and so did the House. The Senate again offered just 3 percent.

"The frustration level’s very high at this point," said Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. "In years where there's not much money, we're told, 'Hey, hang on. We'll get to state employees when there's money. Now that there's money, I don't understand what the holdup would be for giving an appropriate raise."

House and Senate leaders want to spend a lot of the surplus on tax cuts, but they and Cooper don’t agree on what those cuts should be.

Other issues complicating the budget negotiations include Medicaid expansion and school funding.

Cooper has long advocated expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage to low-income working adults. Senate leaders are more open to it this year than in the past, but House lawmakers are now pushing back against the idea.

A state judge has given the General Assembly until next week to come up with a plan to increase school funding as required by a court order in the long-running Leandro lawsuit. That money would be part of the final budget.

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