What’s Going on with the Budget in NC? (Teacher Update) — Sen. Jeff Jackson

A lot of North Carolina teachers are asking me what’s going on with the budget.

So here’s what’s going on (it’s three big things).

First, here’s some of what we’re hearing from our teachers:

  • North Carolina teachers make less now than they did ten years ago, adjusted for inflation.
  • Master’s pay has been eliminated — and multiple bills to reinstate it have been rejected.
  • Retirement benefits have been curtailed for new hires.
  • Over 9,000 teacher assistants have been laid off, which is bad for them and bad for our kids, but also bad for the teachers in grades K-3 that heavily relied on them.

Put all this together and you’ve got a pretty good explanation for why we saw thousands of teachers put on “Red for Ed” shirts and march on the capital in both the years preceding the pandemic.

Second, we have a record surplus as a state.

The consensus estimate between the economic forecasters who work for both parties is that our state has a $6.5b surplus — with billions in recurring funds. For context, the last budget we passed was $24b.

The Governor’s proposal was to give teachers and principals a 10% raise over two years.

His proposal also included a $15 per hour minimum wage for non-certified school workers (such as bus drivers and other support staffers), 5% raise for state employees, 7.5% for UNC system and community college personnel, and a 2% COLA for state retirees.

All of this would be done without raising taxes and with enough left over to put another $1 billion into our state’s rainy day fund. And keep in mind: Right now, North Carolina ranks 45th in per student education spending.

And just for reference: SC = 33rd. GA = 34. VA = 25. AL = 40.

By contrast, the Senate budget would give teachers a 3% raise over two years, bring non-certified wages to $13/hour, give one-time bonuses to teachers, state employees, and some UNC and community college personnel, and offer no COLA to retirees.

That budget passed the Senate recently and now waits for action by the House. Then to the Governor, who may choose to veto it.

If you ask me, this budget is designed to elicit a veto so they can have ammunition against certain legislators who vote to uphold the veto next fall. The glossy mail pieces will say, “This legislator voted *against* giving teachers a raise…” We all know how that works. I’ve seen this same play run many, many times.

The real budget process is the one that’s going to occur on the other side of the Governor’s veto, if he issues one and if it’s sustained.

Third, the majority party is pushing for more corporate tax cuts.

You can see from their budget that the majority party in the Senate has different priorities.

One of them is bringing our corporate tax rate — which, at 2.5%, is the lowest of all 44 states that have a corporate tax — to 0%. That provision was included in the budget they passed, and that’s going to be a big sticking point given that it’s substituting for giving teachers a real raise.

And while Cooper’s proposal was to put another $1 billion into the rainy day fund, their proposal is to put in another $3.8 billion. Its balance is currently $1.1 billion, and it was not tapped during the pandemic.

This won’t be a quick budget process. During one of our town halls, someone in Montgomery County asked, “Is this budget process going to be another soap opera?”

My answer, “Absolutely. It’s gonna be Days of Our Lives. Whole lotta drama.”

What I meant was, you’re going to see a lot of back and forth. I just want to emphasize that the back and forth is a good thing. It’s good that there’s going to be a battle over this, because there should be. It’s important to stay civil and honest, but there’s a genuine disagreement about what our state’s immediate priorities should be, so it’s going to get a little heated and that’s ok — because that’s how we get a better deal for teachers and a lot of other folks.

I’ll keep you posted.

-Jeff Jackson

North Carolina State Senator