The Republican leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly unveiled their Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal on Monday evening.
The proposal, which will likely be voted on sometime this week, is expected to pass as written since the GOP-dominated legislature has already said they won’t entertain any amendments suggested by their Democratic counterparts. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, can veto the budget as he did last year, but the Republicans can simply override that veto with their supermajority in both the House and Senate.
The budget that Cooper vetoed last year was a two-year spending plan that mapped out the current fiscal year and included a rough draft for the upcoming fiscal year that begins in July. The budget bill that is now under consideration includes adjustments to that rough draft after the state ran a budget surplus of approximately $350 million over the past year.
“Basically, I think this is a really good budget,” Lincoln County state Sen. David Curtis, a Denver Republican, said. “We’ve included an additional $700 million for education, while fully funding growth in the K-12 and community college systems, as well as the University of North Carolina system. We’ve given community colleges an additional $14 million so that they’re funded at an equal level for academic courses and workforce development courses to encourage them to teach more welding classes, truck driving classes and other classes of that nature. I’m pretty pleased with the budget overall.”
Teacher pay raises had been the most debated budget item in the weeks leading up to Monday’s unveiling of the proposed spending plan. The Republican proposal includes a pay raise for teachers for the fifth consecutive year and a slightly larger raise for principals, but doesn’t match the 8 percent average pay raise suggested by Cooper.
“Our budget proposal includes an average 6.5 percent pay raise for teachers and 6.9 percent pay raise for school principals,” Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, said. “While we are not yet where we need to be, I’m proud to say that North Carolina is among the top states for fastest rising teacher pay.”
The Republican plan features a base salary of $50,000 for teachers with at least 15 years of experience. That number then increases to $52,000 once a teacher surpasses 25 years of experience.
The plan also prioritizes performance-based bonuses, with $22 million set aside for fourth and fifth grade reading teachers, as well as math teachers in grades four through eight, based on their student’s test scores. In addition, principals would be eligible for performance-based bonuses of up to $20,000 if the Republican spending plan passes.
Teachers aren’t the only ones to receive an increase in pay under the Republican proposal, with every state employee slated to receive a pay raise of at least 2 percent. Some state employees, like prison staff and Highway Patrol troopers, will receive an even larger raise.
“We’re dedicated to increasing compensation for our valued state employees, while simultaneously keeping taxes low, allowing North Carolinians to keep more of their hard-earned dollars,” Saine said. “The budget proposal includes a 2 percent pay raise for most state employees. State correctional officers, however, will see a 4 percent increase and state Highway Patrol troopers will receive about an 8 percent increase. The budget also makes first responders a priority by doubling the line of duty death for police and firefighters benefit to $100,000 and extending the benefit to correctional officers who were not previously covered.”
Finally, the budget proposal sets aside another $60 million to aide the areas affected by Hurricane Matthew after Republicans criticized Cooper for a slow pace of recovery. In addition, the proposed spending plan would add another $160 million to the state’s “rainy day” fund to prepare for future emergencies, bringing that fund balance to $2 billion.
“This means that if there’s another natural disaster, like Hurricane Matthew, we’ll have this money set aside to deal with the damages,” Curtis said. “Also, if we happen to fall into another recession, this money will keep state government services at the same level they’re at right now without having to raise taxes. Without that reserve, we would have to have major tax increases, which is the last thing that you want in the middle of a recession. That $2 billion would help us hold taxes at a low rate in the midst of a recession and we could draw from that reserve to fund critical state needs.”
Curtis, who’s on his way out of the legislature at the end of the year after failing to defeat former Shelby Mayor Ted Alexander in the Republican Party primary election earlier this month, has secured an additional $400,000 in the budget that will be given to Lincoln County to furnish the new West Lincoln Library branch. That’s an additional $400,000 on top of the $250,000 that Curtis was able to set aside in the current fiscal year for the same cause.