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Gov. Pat McCrory unveils his recommended 2015-17 state budget

Governor Pat McCrory unveiled his recommended $21.5 billion budget Thursday, which continues his promise to boost beginning teacher salaries up to a minimum $35,000 a year but does not provide significant increases for veteran teachers and makes yet another cut to the state’s university system.

“We’re changing the basic paradigm of how we evaluate and distribute our limited tax dollars,” McCrory told reporters Thursday. “The new paradigm is directing our monies toward where we’re having the highest attrition, where the greatest need is and based upon the market performance…we’re really speaking in a different paradigm that’s more market-oriented than civil service oriented.”

More than half of McCrory’s 2015-17 recommended state budget is devoted to education. An additional $200+ million is spent on fully funding student enrollment growth in K-12 education over the next two years, and around $84,000 is tagged for increasing beginning teacher salaries from $33,000 (which the General Assembly approved last year) to $35,000 beginning this fall.

While veteran teachers did not receive significant pay bumps in spite of the fact that many say they were cheated out of raises during last year’s much touted teacher pay raise, McCrory’s new budget director, Lee Roberts, emphasized that eligible teachers would still move along the newly-enacted state salary schedule if McCrory’s budget passes.

The old salary schedule for teachers had previously been frozen, Roberts said. The state’s new system provides teachers with pay bumps every five years.

McCrory’s budget hits the University of North Carolina system with a 2 percent funding decrease, also known as “allowing flexibility to achieve efficiencies.”

That cut comes on top of years of budget cuts to the state’s strapped universities. In addition, universities would also be capped at $1 million with regard to how many state dollars they can spend toward private fundraising efforts.

McCrory told reporters that he’s consulted with UNC leaders.

“We’ve talked to the university leaders about this and what they like is the flexibility we’re giving them, said McCrory. “Instead of the politicians out of Raleigh telling them how to find savings, we’re giving them the flexibility to do that.”

The word flexibility was a commonly used one in today’s budget reveal.

“In the past, they’ve [UNC] gotten the directive of what to reduce or increase out of Raleigh. Those days are ending. We want to give that flexibility to our universities and our community colleges and, by the way, our superintendents,” McCrory said.

Other education-related takeaways from the Governor’s budget:

  • One-time “hold harmless” bonuses. Provides $1,000 salary bonuses to teachers and school-based administrators who end up earning less than before with the new teacher salary schedule.
  • Maintain teacher assistants. Last year McCrory emphasized preserving funds to pay for teacher assistants, and it appears that’s the case for this year too. $64 million is set aside in both years of his budget to save approximately 2,000 TAs.
  • Fully fund enrollment growth. $200,000,000+ is set aside to hire 1,400+ teacher positions in order to accommodate an increased number of students enrolling in North Carolina’s public schools.
  • Master’s degree pay. Science, technology, engingeering and math (STEM) teachers and those teaching students with special needs who have advanced degrees in those fields would see higher pay.
  • Pay-for-performance. Puts a total of $15 million into the NC Education Endowment Fund over two years to implement teacher pay-for-performance plans that directly relate to increasing student outcomes. This seems more focused on rewarding teachers on the basis of students’ test scores rather than rewarding other differentiated pay plans.
  • Textbooks. Textbook funding is well known for being gutted by lawmakers over the past several years, and in many areas students are working with textbooks that are at least seven or eight years old. McCrory proposes putting $35 million back into textbooks but has merged that line item with Instructional Supplies and Equipment — and adds language for “local flexibility,” which means districts could potentially end up spending more on equipment than on textbooks.
  • Cut to Department of Public Instruction. McCrory proposes cutting DPI by $4 million each year of the two year budget, or by 10 percent. This comes on top of last year’s sizable 10 percent reduction handed down by lawmakers, which resulted in the loss of more than 50 jobs.
  • Community college tuition increase. Tuition at community colleges goes up from $72 per credit hour to $76 per credit hour at the state’s community colleges in McCrory’s budget.
  • Eastern Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. McCrory devotes $8 million to saving the embattled medical school.

Ultimately, it’s up to members of the General Assembly to craft and pass a state budget, which McCrory can then approve or veto.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for the House and Senate to unveil their budget proposals. Click here to read McCrory’s full budget.

Commentary

For those of you that may be wondering who in the heck this strange would-be GOP presidential candidate named Ben Carson is — you know, the troubled soul who claimed this week that prison turns people gay and then issued a non-apology apology for the absurd statement — rest easy as you’ll get your chance soon.

It turns out that he’s coming to Raleigh in the coming weeks thanks to our open-minded friends over at the Pope-Civitas Institute who have made him the keynote speaker (and, apparently, the featured homophobe) at this month’s 2015 Conservative Leadership Conference!

Stay tuned — should be loads of fun.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The “tough choices” Governor McCrory says he made in his just-released budget proposal were self-inflicted. They come from tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations, meaning there is too little left to invest in education and other building blocks of a strong economy.

Also troubling is the Governor’s use of changes to the budgeting process to mask the state’s inability to keep up with growing needs. It’s wrong to abandon longstanding practices that have served North Carolina well just to avoid debate over failed tax policies. Budget tricks won’t hide the fact that this will make it even harder in the future to promote broad prosperity.

Commentary

Pat McCrory 4It should probably come as no surprise when a state elects a governor who’s spent most of his adult life in the employ of one of the planet’s biggest polluters and he fails to make environmental protection a top priority. That said, there is something disturbing and notably blatant about the way the McCrory administration continues to wage war on environmental protection and, it would seem, the very idea that government has a role to play in the matter.

The list of disasters implemented over the last few years in the realm of environmental protection in North Carolina is already a long one — the uninspiring leaders appointed, the half-baked responses to the coal ash mess, the retreat on sea-level rise, the failure to take action on climate change, the lack of investments, the rules compromised — but two new announcements this week serve really to pour symbolic salt on the wound and rub it in.

First is the announcement to be unveiled officially today with the Governor’s proposed budget that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is to be: a) re-christened as the “Department of Energy and  Environment” (I’m sure you noticed which word got second billing) and b) further eviscerated with the transfer of the state zoo as well as several museums and parks (and scientists) to the Department of Cultural Resources.

What’s next? Read More

Commentary

marriage amendmentYesterday afternoon, members of the public were given an opportunity to share their thoughts on Senate Bill 2 before the House Judiciary I Committee. The bill, which would permit magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages due to their religious beliefs, has been hotly contested since it was first introduced in late January.

During the meeting, opponents of the bill stressed the difference between the civil duty of magistrates and the religious freedom of clergy. They also reminded the committee that government officials shouldn’t be allowed to refuse to perform a duty which is part of their job when it deprives the public of a right. However, disagreement between committee members on whether performing civil marriages is the duty of a magistrate or a power given to him provided evidence that many legislators are still missing the point.

Read More