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Governor’s suggested budget includes teacher, state employee raises

Gov. Roy Cooper rolled out his budget proposal in a Thursday press conference.

Gov. Roy Cooper rolled out office’s recommended state budget Thursday, ahead of the legislative session that begins May 16.

The $24.54 billion proposal  includes some major proposals that do not sit well with the Republican-led legislature, including freezing tax cuts for businesses and wealthy North Carolinians to fund raises for every teacher in the state of at least 5 percent.

“They should not have to take to the streets to get what they deserve,” Cooper said of the state’s teachers, referring to a massive teacher demonstration planned by teachers for the opening day fo the legislative session in Raleigh. The planned protest has already led 17 school systems across the state to close on the day of the protest.

Under Cooper’s plan, all teachers would receive at least a 5 percent raise. The average raise would be 8 percent with some getting up to 14.8 percent. Principals would also get an 8 percent raise.

The plan would fund that by freezing the corporate income tax rate at 3 percent and the individual tax rate at 5.499 percent for all income over $200,000 a year. That would free $110 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year that begins July 1, Cooper said – and $260 million  the next year.

Under the current plan passed by the legislature, the corporate tax rate would drop to 2.5 percent in 2019 and the indivudual rate would drop to 5.25 percent.

Cooper and State Budget Director Charlie Perusse emphasized that under their plan 95 percent of North Carolinians would still see that 5.25 percent individual tax rate and all income up to $200,000 would still be taxed at that rate.

GOP legislative leaders released a statement condemning Cooper’s plan even before it was officially released, saying the $23.92 billion they’ve agreed to budget in the coming year – about $886 million more than this year – is more realistic.

“What we are hearing appears to be more of an unserious attempt to score political points in an election year than a responsible, sustainable budget for ten million North Carolinians,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a joint statement.

Other priorities Cooper highlighted in his budget proposal include:

  • A one percent cost-of-living raise for retirees receiving a state pension.
  • A  recurring raise for all state employees of either two percent or $1,250 – whichever is greater. State employees in public safety positions would get an extra $1,000. Cooper touted the proposal as “the largest state employee raise in a decade.”
  • $28 million to strengthen the state’s prison system and encourage hiring for vacant correction officer positions and greater retention.
  • $20 million to promote broadband in “rural areas that need it most.”
  • $14.5 million to address water quality concerns like GenX contamination.
  • $140 million in hurricane recovery funds.

Robert Broome, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, praised the proposed budget in a statement Thursday.

“The governor’s decisive action is a significant and long overdue step toward lifting many public employees out of poverty wages, especially those who serve our most vulnerable citizens or protect us from harm,” Broome said in the statement.

Alexandra Sirota, director of the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center Director, also praised the proposal.

“For years, the NC General Assembly has prioritized tax cuts for profitable corporations and wealthy taxpayers, making tax choices that failed to deliver benefits to rural communities, working people, children and seniors, in particular,” Sirota said in a statement.

“The Governor’s budget stands in contrast, taking a fiscally responsible approach that seeks to build a thriving North Carolina for everyone.,” Sirota said. “It is a recognition of our historical commitment to the public good, and it should be a signal to the General Assembly to undo their harmful tax cuts that undermine North Carolina’s future.” (The N.C. Justice Center is the parent organization of N.C. Policy Watch.)

Cooper said it’s time for the state to “put our money where our mouth is” and get serious about funding North Carolina priorities.

“There’s a lot of things in this budget they should adopt if they want to do the things they talk about,” Cooper said of legislators.

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