Commentary

Another austerity budget — 429 pages of it

Budget see sawLegislative leaders did their best yesterday afternoon to spin their new budget agreement in a positive light by describing it as a compromise that spends more than last year in absolute dollars and that eschews some of the more radical proposals that had been discussed during the seemingly endless 2015 legislative session. Much of what’s in it remains to be seen as it appears the 429 page document is chock full of special provisions unrelated to the budget.

That said, the central, overarching reality is this: The new agreement is another austerity budget that keeps state employees and veteran teachers stuck on the salary treadmill to nowhere on which they’ve been trapped for years.

As this morning’s Weekly Briefing notes:

“In the last decade and a half, most state employees have seen only two years of decent pay hikes – 2006 and 2007, when lawmakers granted raises of 5.5% and 4% respectively. Other than those two years, raises have been non-existent or tiny. It’s gotten so bad that a page on the website of the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) actually brags about the 2014 annual raise of $1,000 (less than $20 per week before taxes) as a major accomplishment!

And, of course, it was just yesterday that legislative leaders pushed the repeat button by confirming that most state employees would receive only a flat, one-time bonus of $750 for the new fiscal year. That’s $14.42 per week before taxes or about $2.88 per day. Next year, employees will be back where they were last year when and if the issue is revisited. State government retirees will get no increase at all.

It doesn’t take a math degree to understand that such treatment is pushing state workers further and further behind the eight ball. Since 2001, general U.S. inflation has been around 35%. And, of course, many other expenses have risen even faster. And while U.S. workers have, overall, experienced only flat wage growth for years, at least it’s been flat. State employee compensation in North Carolina, on the other hand, has risen roughly half the inflation rate since the start of the century.”

Simply put, there’s no way to move a state forward when year after year, the human beings who make up the government are repeatedly disrespected and treated as expendable cogs.  Sadly, this year’s budget does just that once again.

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