NC Republicans finally agree on a budget – and it’s full of right-wing priorities; teachers, state employees will barely get raises
It took more than 80 days of secretive negotiations and an uproar over a move to tie Medicaid expansion to casino legislation, but Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly finally agreed on a budget on Wednesday afternoon.
Unfortunately for most North Carolinians, since Republicans control both chambers of the legislature, the budget includes mostly just their priorities. What that means is that teachers and state employees will receive only paltry raises over the next two years, public schools won’t receive the funding they need and, while it does include Medicaid expansion, there are plenty of awful parts of the $30 billion, 625-page bill that will cause harm to our state and its residents.
Here’s a look at some of what’s included in the budget:
- Most state employees will get a 4% raise this year and a 3% raise next year. Public school teachers with more than 15 years of experience will only get a 3.6% raise over the next two years. Beginning teacher pay will increase by 11% by the 2024-25 school year. Even after the raise, new teachers will only be making $41,000 per year. Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget called for an average teacher pay raise of 18% and a 5% across-the-board cost-of-living increase for state employees in the first year and 3% in the second. State employees will also receive a bonus and an increase in vacation days.
- The budget will massively expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program from $133 million of spending to $500 million by the end of the decade. The program currently allows lower-income families to get taxpayer money for private school tuition. If the budget becomes law, Republicans will get their wish of opening up the program to wealthy families, meaning that rich people who can afford to pay for their child to attend private school will be sending their kids to school on your dime and at the expense of public schools.
- Lawmakers, who have already exempted themselves from some parts of the state’s public records laws, will be allowed to refuse any records requests they don’t feel like complying with.
- The budget bans schools, colleges, local governments and state agencies from requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
- A specific legislative committee will be allowed to investigate government agencies as well as private companies that get state funding. Anyone taking part in the investigation will be forced to keep it a secret.
- The retirement age for judges on the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will be raised from 72 to 76 to allow Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby to stay on the bench longer instead of being forced to retire.
- The State Board of Elections will be banned from joining a national anti-voter fraud program called ERIC, which has been a target of national Republican election deniers.
In typical Republican fashion, the budget was released only about 18 hours before the House and Senate’s first votes on Thursday. The budget, which was negotiated in secret by Republicans, is being passed using a procedural move that doesn’t allow for anyone to even suggest changes or amendments since it has been made public, WRAL reported.
Democrats criticized Republicans for their cheap political tricks and for just how bad the budget is for many North Carolinians.
“There’s a multitude of sins in it, all you need to do is ask a teacher or a state employee or a retiree, or perhaps a taxpayer who is going to now pay for a rich family’s private education for their children,” said Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover). “There’s tax cuts that aren’t necessary that are going to create shortfalls for us in the very near future.”
Rep. Renee Price (D-Orange) said the budget is disrespectful to current and retired state employees.
“We should be providing larger raises for our dedicated employees,” she said. “We should be giving cost-of-living [pension increases] to the folks who spent years upon years of their lives serving us.”
Rep. Brandon Lofton (D-Mecklenburg) told reporters that Republicans prioritized sending kids to private schools over paying teachers.
“We could double the raises to our teachers if we spent the money that we’re spending on private school vouchers and instead put it toward our teachers,” he said. “This budget not only fails to meet our needs today, it makes it harder for us to meet our needs going forward.”
Rep. Julie von Haefen (D-Wake) said, “This budget fails our kids.”
The governor said he’s unsure if he will veto the budget even though it does include Medicaid expansion. Cooper told reporters on Thursday he is concerned that many parts of the budget are unconstitutional or misguided.
“[Medicaid expansion] is a positive part of this budget. However, it is a bad budget in many ways. It grossly underfunds public education. It provides tax cuts for the very wealthiest among us. It provides private school vouchers, which will end up hurting public education,” he said.
The budget passed the House just after midnight Friday morning and passed the Senate shortly after 10:15 a.m.
Cooper released a statement shortly after the budget passed where he explained his decision to let the budget become law without his signature:
“Health insurance for 600,000 more North Carolinians that brings more mental health and substance use disorder treatment, help for desperate rural hospitals and billions of dollars into our economy is a life-saving, monumental decision for our state.
Make no mistake, overall this is a bad budget that seriously shortchanges our schools, prioritizes power grabs, keeps shady backroom deals secret and blatantly violates the constitution, and many of its provisions will face legal action.
However, we must recognize this irresponsible legislature’s decade of refusal to expand Medicaid, which has caused life and death situations for so many North Carolinians and threatened the very existence of numerous rural hospitals. I will not allow people who are crying for help to wait any longer, so I am directing our Department of Health and Human Services to begin today the process for expanding Medicaid while allowing this budget to become law without my signature.”