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.

Commentary

If you like latest state pay “raises,” you’ll love ALEC-inspired TABOR amendment

A one-time, $750 “bonus.” That’s what most North Carolina state employees will get as a “pay increase” as a result of the new budget deal at the General Assembly. That’s about $10 per week after taxes.

Not much, we know, but if the state Senate has its way, such a “raise” may soon seem downright extravagant. That’s because the new constitutional amendments the Senate has proposed to place on the state ballot next year would actually make such a “raise” all but impossible.

As this morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer explains thoroughly, the so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” or “TABOR” would all but end state government’s ability to address the needs of the citizenry — much less provide meaningful raises to public employees. Indeed, even with this year’s pathetic pay bonus, spending will actually exceed the limits that TABOR would put permanently in place.

As the N&O editorial  puts it:

“It’s absolutely astonishing that despite the failure of TABOR in Colorado, stubborn state Senate Republicans have pushed on with it, almost defiantly ignoring common sense and the business community. Why have many other states considered it and then reconsidered it? Because, after that first flush of thinking it’s a great conservative idea and run-on issue, cooler heads realize it hasn’t worked.”

Let’s hope the cooler heads emerge and take charge here in North Carolina very soon.
News

Just in: House, Senate reach deal on teacher & state employee pay raises

*This post has been updated to reflect comments from Senate budget writer Harry Brown indicating that all state employees AND teachers will receive $750 bonuses during the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The News & Observer is reporting that House and Senate leaders have reached an agreement on how much to pay teachers and state employees for this fiscal year, nearly two months after their June 30 deadline for making these decisions.

All state employees, including teachers, will receive $750 bonuses toward the end of 2015, said Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow). That amounts to $62.50 per month, before taxes.

Making good on last year’s promise, beginning teachers will also see their base pay rise to $35,000 per year, up from $33,000 that was enacted last year.

Experienced teachers will also receive step increases, presumably as laid out in the state’s streamlined salary schedule, which lawmakers enacted last year—although budget documents detailing the step increases were not made available Wednesday. (See here for the 2014-15 salary schedule.)

It’s unclear whether teachers who are scheduled for step increases as well as beginning teachers will be paid retroactively beginning with the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Tim Moore said their priority will be to focus on “shoring up funds so we can give meaningful raises” next year, according to the N&O.

For a teacher with 15 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree, receiving a step increase will mean jumping up from a base salary of $40,000 to $43,500 (excluding local supplements). Step increases for teachers are scheduled every five years, stopping at year 25 and capping base salary at $50,000.

WRAL reports that budget negotiators are still discussing how much of a pay increase to give state retirees. And there’s no resolution yet about teacher assistants—the Senate wants to slash 8,500+ TA jobs in exchange for reducing classroom size, while the House wants to preserve those positions.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced Wednesday that the General Assembly will pass a third continuing resolution tomorrow. The measure, which will keep state government operations running as lawmakers finalize a budget, will run through September 18—although they hope to reach a final agreement sooner, at which time the above mentioned raises & bonuses will be set in law.

Commentary

TABOR will make North Carolina’s bleak teacher pay situation even worse

In case you missed it the other day, the Charlotte Observer ran one of the best essays yet on the disastrous consequences that North Carolina can expect if the ALEC-inspired “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” becomes embedded in the state constitution and what we ought to do instead.

Leslie WinnerIncrease teacher pay without TABOR

By Leslie Winner

I was talking to the superintendent of a small school system last fall, and she mournfully told me about losing her best high school math teacher to South Carolina, where he would earn $10,000 more per year for doing the same job. We all know young adults who would be good teachers, who would like to teach in North Carolina, and who won’t go into teaching, or who are leaving or won’t come to North Carolina, because we do not pay enough for a teacher’s family to live on. We all know of schools that will open this month without a qualified teacher in each classroom, that are facing a shortage of math, science, and foreign language teachers, because those schools cannot find enough qualified teachers to hire.

Almost all of us in North Carolina deeply believe that our public schools should prepare each child for a meaningful and productive life. Kids are different from each other, and each child deserves to get a year’s worth of growth for a year’s worth of school. Parents also deserve to be confident that their children will finish school prepared for the future. We know that to accomplish this, schools must have good teachers in each classroom and enough up-to-date textbooks and technology.

Since North Carolina is currently significantly behind in providing enough funding for teachers, textbooks, and technology, I was surprised to read that talk of TABOR, the so called “tax-payer bill of rights,” has resurfaced in the legislature. This proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution would both cap North Carolina’s income tax at 5%, helping those with higher incomes, and cost the state $1.5 billion a year in revenue. It would also limit increases in state spending, based on inflation and population growth, limiting North Carolina, effectively, to the amount we are spending now, with no room for improving public schools even in prosperous times.

We are fortunate to have thousands of effective, dedicated teachers in our schools. To keep them, and to attract new ones, we need to recruit smart young adults into the profession, provide the best with prestigious teacher scholarships, prepare them well, respect and support them as teachers, and pay them enough so they can support their families while they work as teachers. Currently, about half our teachers quit in their first five years. If we invested in recruiting, preparing, supporting, and paying them well, more would stay longer, reducing the number we need to hire each year, and allowing us to invest more into recruiting, preparing and supporting the next round of new teachers. Read more