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Lawmakers Approve ‘Mini Budget Bills’ On Salary Increases; Governor Urges Negotiation On Full State Spending Package

Katherine Joyce | NCASA Executive Director

Lawmakers this week rolled out and approved a series of “mini budget bills” that pulled previous salary increases from the vetoed budget in House Bill 966 and sent them as separate pay-proposal bills to Governor Roy Cooper. Meanwhile, the Governor sent all school superintendents a letter on Tuesday urging them to encourage lawmakers to “negotiate and pass a responsible budget.” The letter and public comments from the Governor this week both create uncertainty over whether he will sign the piecemeal-budget bills. In his letter, he emphasizes his priorities for a budget compromise include Medicaid expansion, “better salary increases for teachers and non-certified school personnel,” and the “first statewide bond referendum to build public schools in nearly a quarter-century.”

Of the five salary bills that moved through the House and Senate on Monday and Tuesday, none dealt with pay increases for teachers and other certified staff in public schools, while a couple proposed raises for non-certified employees, as well as retirement and health care benefit and funding adjustments.

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday morning unveiled a revised House Bill 426, now entitled “Educators’ Pay Increases/Retiree Supplements.” However, the bill excludes a large segment of educators, including teachers, principals, all other certified staff, and central office employees. The bill does propose pay increases for non-certified school personnel, as well as community college and university employees, but even some bill provisions affecting LEA staff drew concerns from many Democratic House members this week.

Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake), who serves as Minority Leader for House Democrats, urged his fellow lawmakers to increase the proposed raise for non-certified school employees to match proposed raises for most other state employees included in the recently-revised House Bill 226, as well as the vetoed budget in H966. Non-certified employees (including janitors, bus drivers, clerical staff, teacher assistants and others) would see only a 1% increase this current fiscal year under the vetoed budget and recent educator pay mini budget bill, although both bills include language stating the General Assembly’s “intent” to provide these same employees with an additional 1% increase in 2020-21. Most employees in state agencies (including those holding jobs comparable to non-certified school staff jobs) would see increases of 2.5% both this fiscal year and next, along with five bonus leave days that also would be withheld from all public school personnel.

Concerns from Rep. Jackson and other House Democrats resulted in multiple amendments being proposed to H426 to increase the non-certified personnel pay increase, add a teacher pay increase, and make other changes. Although the bill passed its first House floor vote on Tuesday, the bill was re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday without action on any of the amendments. House GOP leaders later indicated they may leave this bill in the committee and move forward a conference report, which cannot be amended, with the same contents. This next step is not expected until after the House and Senate take a break from legislation action on Labor Day and the remainder of next week.

H426, which now is likely stalled, and H226 (on state employee raises) both outlined revised employer contributions to the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System (TSERS), as well as the revised monthly premiums that employers, including school districts, would pay for their employees through the State Health Plan. H426 proposes a 0.5% one-time retiree supplement to be paid in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, which S226 does not include. The two bills’ divergence on this important point also leaves any adjustment to the current employer contribution rates in question, as both bills propose different rates.

Lastly, H426 also includes a proposed study on school psychologists and school counselors, which would include information on how they are allocated across the state, and how they are being paid. This same study was proposed in the vetoed full state budget legislation.

The other free-standing pay-proposal bills rolled out by lawmakers this week received full approval. Those bills include:

  • House Bill 126, dealing with prison employee pay increases;
  • House Bill 609, addressing State Highway Patrol raises; and
  • House Bill 777, which covers salary bumps for State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement officers.

These three bills, along with S226 on state employee pay, now head to Governor Cooper, who will have 10 days to determine whether to sign, veto, or allow them to become law without his signature. No matter their outcome, it appears the impasse in reaching a full state budget compromise will drag into its third full month with no immediate resolution in sight.

Katherine Joyce