N.C. Republican senators increased Thursday their pay-raise proposal for public school teachers in a bid to put more pressure on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to approve a mini-budget bill.
Cooper has until Monday to decide whether to sign Senate Bill 354, make it his 11th veto of the 2019 session, or let it become law without his signature, which he has done with two bills.
SB354 would raise public school employees’ pay by an average 3.9%, retroactive to July 1. The Senate passed the bill by a 28-20 vote and the House by a 62-46 vote, both Oct. 30 along party lines.
On Thursday, a statement from the office of Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, contained a proposal that would up the teacher raise to 4.9% for all teachers, as well as a $1,000 bonus.
The chairs of the Senate Appropriations committee said the proposal was made earlier this week to Democratic Senate leaders Dan Blue and Darren Jackson, both of Wake County. Berger’s office has not responded to a request to disclose the proposal.
The chairs also cited a willingness to discuss the Republicans’ criticized proposal to move the headquarters of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services from Raleigh to Oxford.
Cooper has said the GOP budget does not contain a large enough pay increase for public school teachers — he has proposed an 8.6% raise.
The issue is one of the two primary reasons why Cooper vetoed GOP state budget compromise House Bill 966 on June 28, along with the bill not having Medicaid expansion legislation. The budget stalemate reaches day 133 Friday.
“We gave the Senate Democrats one more chance to show they support teachers,” said Sens. Harry Brown of Onslow County, Kathy Harrington of Gaston County and Brent Jackson of Sampson County, expressing similar comments made when SB250 was ratified Oct. 30.
“Instead, they’re backing Gov. Cooper’s Medicaid ultimatum.
“It’s clear that Democrats are intent on blocking any and all teacher raises so they can turn around and blame Republicans,” the senators said.
Dory MacMillan, press secretary for Cooper, said “the only ultimatum has come from dishonest Republican legislative leaders who insist on a budget veto override, which gives them sweeping corporate tax cuts and $380 million in pork projects instead of adequate teacher pay raises.”
“Republican leaders know full well that the governor has offered time and again to negotiate these educator pay raises separate and apart from Medicaid expansion or any other budget issue.”
Splitting the difference between Republican and Democratic positions on teacher pay “has always been the obvious way to negotiate an end to the months-long budget standoff,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.
“It is easy to see how the parties could engage in give and take on teacher pay and some other budget issues,” Dinan said.
“The key question is whether the governor is willing to engage in such give and take at this point, given the strong stand he has long taken on Medicaid expansion, or alternatively whether one or several Democrats are willing to take such a deal and claim a partial win on teacher pay increases.”
Senate Republicans need to persuade at least one Democratic senator to support a veto override vote at full attendance. The Senate has not conducted an override vote on Cooper’s remaining nine vetoes.
“I suspect legislative leaders are aiming this proposal more at Democratic senators than at Gov. Cooper,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.
“Republicans believe that Cooper will accept no deals that do not include his Obamacare version of Medicaid expansion. If that’s true, then the amount of money devoted to higher teacher pay is irrelevant to the governor.
“But a higher teacher pay provision might prove more enticing to Democratic legislators who lack Cooper’s devotion to that single political goal.”
Kokai said the latest adjournment resolution allowing for the Nov. 13 session “gave (GOP legislative leaders) some wiggle room to tackle legislation other than redistricting.”
A sweetener was added to SB250 before it was ratified: a 4.4% pay supplement increase. The catch: The supplement hike only goes into effect if Senate Republicans gain the necessary Democratic vote to override Cooper’s budget veto.
The N.C. Association of Educators responded to the pay supplemental offer Oct. 30 by calling it “wildly insulting to educators of every level.”
Mark Jewell, the association’s president, said that “even with these proposed increases, education support professionals would still be getting less than other state employees have already received, and our retirees are ignored entirely.”
House Republican leaders waited 76 days to conduct their veto override vote of the state budget compromise in controversial manner Sept. 11. Most Democratic members were not on the floor because they said they had been told by Republican House leadership that no votes would be taken during the first session that day.
The Senate did not take a veto override vote on the budget even though it was on the floor agenda for four days before the session was temporary adjourned Oct. 31.
According to the temporary adjournment legislation, veto override votes currently can’t occur until Jan. 14 at the earliest.
Cooper has signed all but one of the mini-budget bills, the lone veto being for House Bill 555, which contained $218 million in start-up funding from the proposed state budget for the Medicaid managed-care transformation initiative now set for a Feb. 1 statewide start.
Berger released a statement Oct. 31 saying that through the mini-budget process, the legislature “passed funding that totals 98.5% of the original $24 billion (budget) it passed in June.”