What are the average pay raises proposed for North Carolina teachers and state employees?
That’s a routine question posed when any state government budget proposal is released.
In recent years, the answer has been “nothing” or one difficult to describe with single numbers. But Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s pay increase recommendations seem incompatible with the question.
McCrory’s two-year spending plan offers neither all public school teachers nor rank-and-file state employees across-the-board raises. Rather, the governor emphasizes improving pay for certain teachers and targeting state employees in hard-to-fill or dangerous law enforcement positions.
The lack of across-the-board raises partly reflects the uncertainty of tax collections, which have grown year-to-year but have fallen short of initial forecasts in a slow-recovering economy. The GOP-led General Assembly might offer across-the-board raises if revenues surge.
But McCrory suggested last week that his administration is moving away from the expectation of raises for everyone every year.
“We’re changing the basic paradigm of how we evaluate and distribute our limited tax dollars,” McCrory told reporters at the budget release. “The new paradigm is directing our moneys toward where we’re having the highest attrition, where the greatest need is based upon the market performance, and also based upon leadership (in) teaching.”
Public employee groups, whose members received no across-the-board state raises during four of the past six years, say the governor’s shift will further erode worker morale and make it harder to retain enough quality veteran classroom teachers.
State workers “aren’t keeping up with the cost of living,” said Mitch Leonard with the 55,000-member State Employees Association of North Carolina. “At the end of the day, the cost of living is the same for everybody.”
McCrory wants to implement the second year of a two-year effort to raise minimum salaries for early-career teachers from $30,800 to $35,000. The governor’s plan also would pay for experience-based increases that teachers receive when they move up one rung on the salary scale. But those raises aren’t annual increases anymore, since Republicans consolidated the pay scale last summer. Now they come every five years.
McCrory also wants $15 million over two years for a recently created endowment that will distribute funds to school districts and provide more pay for teachers in high-demand fields and those who hold leadership responsibilities.
Meanwhile, McCrory is proposing average 5 percent raises annually to 700 state troopers and the phase-in of a new salary scale for nearly 10,000 correctional officers, costing $21 million initially. McCrory then wants to expand dramatically a “pay adjustment fund” for positions in fields where it’s difficult to recruit or retain workers, such as information technology and nursing. He used $7.5 million in the fund to pay more to 3,200 employees last fiscal year. Now he wants $82 million the next two years.
State Budget Director Lee Roberts said targeted pay increases make sense in an era of austerity.
“What we should do in situations of a limited availability is use the money where it can make the most difference,” Roberts said, adding that across-the-board raises are “probably not the most effective way of doing that.”
There are roughly 300,000 teachers, university workers and other state employees. It costs $134 million to pay for a 1 percent across-the-board pay raise for state and state-funded employees. Critics argue there would be plenty more revenues for uniform increases if Republicans hadn’t cut tax rates so much in 2013.
GOP lawmakers back the move toward differentiated pay, with recent laws as proof. McCrory also envisions worker evaluations generated from an employee performance management system being developed as ultimately playing a role in pay.
Senior House budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said performance ultimately should be just one element of pay along with cost-of-living increases. Dollar said legislative approval of broader pay raises in the coming year may depend on whether April revenues are strong.
As for McCrory’s lack of across-the-board raises, Dollar added, “I think for the moment it’s prudent not to overpromise.”