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The Voice of the Black Community

State & National

State workers’ pay a budget priority
Teachers would get bump; how much is issue
 
Published Wednesday, April 23, 2014 9:03 am
by Herbert L. White

RALEIGH – For the second straight year, North Carolina’s proposed budget will try to increase teachers’ pay.

State Budget Director Art Pope said the budget submitted last year by Gov. Pat McCrory included a 1 percent raise for teachers and other state employees, but was cut out, in part due to shortfalls in Medicaid payments. With a smaller gap anticipated for the 2014-15 fiscal year, Pope anticipates a better result when the General Assembly meets next month.

“We are working as hard as we can to make that happen,” he said. 

The budget will be presented to McCrory by April 28, then lawmakers on May 14, opening day of the short session. Yet to be determined are Medicaid payments, tax revenues and the scope of employee pay. The state’s Medicaid expense is expected to be $120-$140 million more than revenues, a projection that is smaller than previous years.

“We do not have the full Medicaid numbers as of this date,” he said. “In fact, the (Department of) Health and Human Services is making a presentation to the Legislative Oversight Committee on this year’s Medicaid shortfall and we’re still working on what the potential additional cost of Medicaid next year is going to be.”

At stake is pay increases for state employees and educators, which McCrory and General Assembly leadership pledged. Starting teachers would get an immediate bump to $33,000 in 2014 and $35,000 in 2015, a plan that teachers – who haven’t gotten a raise since 2008 – slammed for ignoring experienced classroom veterans.

“He thought that was a high priority in order to attract and retain better teachers from the get-go,” Pope said. 

A census, of state employees and pay structure was submitted by state agencies in March, which the budget office is analyzing it for potential pay alternatives.

Another unknown is revenue collections, which “is almost on budget” at $12 million over the target, Pope said.  State withholding taxes on employee wages are down but the payroll and inheritance tax is up, which “offset the decrease in the sales tax,” he added. 

North Carolina’s budget woes started with the Great Recession of 2008 when the state deferred projects and cut the budget in response to the sluggish economy. As a result, state employees pay remained flat and the rainy-day fund was depleted. The emergency revenue pool has since been restored to $630 million.

“The start of the Great Recession meant a tremendous fall in state revenue,” Pope said. “…So when Gov. McCrory came into office, our first priority was to restore the reductions that had already been made and catch up on the spending that had been deferred.”

Last year’s budget – McCrory’s first as governor – was panned by liberals, who said it was driven by tax cuts that benefited corporations instead of middle- and lower-income residents. 

“Instead of investing adequate resources in school, health care, public safety and the other building blocks of a strong and enduring economy, state lawmakers chose to make room for tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable businesses that will cost $683.8 million in lost revenue over the next two years and $2.8 billion over the next five years,” wrote Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center.

Complicating budgetary priorities are competing interests within government itself. Building maintenance and replacing vehicles in the state fleet, for instance, were deferred at the same time teacher pay – ranked 46th in the nation – and education spending became a point of political contention. The result has been a piecemeal approach to rebuilding assets. 

“I understand the choice between keeping teachers in the classroom or driving a car for another year – you keep the teachers in the classroom,” Pope said. “But the bill comes due when that car is unsafe, and that’s what we’ve been doing in catch-up mode.”

 

Comments

Aww man...I needed that money for the coming Duke Energy customer/taxpayer bailout.
Posted on April 24, 2014
 
So the excuse is Medicaid? If Art Pope's legislature and governor had accepted the Medicaid expansion paid for by the federal government under "Obamacare" not only would tens of thousands of the uninsured be covered at no cost to the state but teachers and state employees would be paid a wage that keeps up with inflation. It's not the "Great Recession" that's to blame for poor salaries for state workers. It's contempt for them plus Pope's desire to cut the taxes of him and his 1% friends.
Posted on April 24, 2014
 

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