House and Senate leaders have reached a compromise on teacher and state employee pay and have moved closer to an agreement on overall state spending.
State employees and teachers would receive $750 bonuses this year under the compromise, rather than a 2 percent across-the-board increase the House wanted.
The Senate in its budget proposed targeted raises for hard-to-fill and hard-to-retain positions.
The State Employees Association of North Carolina had been pushing for across-the-board raises. Ardis Watkins, a SEANC lobbyist, said she hopes the final budget agreement includes bonus days for state employees – additional annual leave – because some use that time to supplement their regular income.
The average state employee salary was $42,753 in May 2014, the latest figures available.
That means the $750 bonus represents a 1.75 percent bonus for the average employee.
Food and rent are going up, Watkins said, “and wages aren’t.” The last budget included five bonus days for state employees.
House Speaker Tim Moore’s spokeswoman, Mollie Young, said a priority will be “shoring up funds so we can give meaningful raises” next year.
Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican and budget writer, said the House wanted to give state employees $500 bonuses but the Senate wanted to give more. The Senate got the $750 and agreed to move money into education, something the House wanted.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican and budget writer, said what the House really wanted was to increase base pay overall - an increase that would carry into next year- rather than the one-time bonuses.
Going into specifics about the negotiations on bonuses “is not productive,” he added.
The budget also funds pay increases for teachers as they gain experience and the second-year of a two-year plan to raise the salaries of beginning teachers to $35,000.
A slow process
The House and Senate budget negotiations have been significantly slowed this year by major policy and spending differences. The House wanted to spend more than the Senate, and the Senate put some controversial tax and health care policy proposals in its budget. To move negotiations along, the Senate withdrew its tax and Medicaid policies, and last week the chambers agreed to a budget bottom line of about $21.7 billion.
An agreement on how that money should be divided between education, health, state courts and other functions took time, McGrady said.
The final budget will spend more than $100 million less on education than the House wanted, and more than $150 million less on health and human services than the House proposed.
“Lower targets are real things,” McGrady said.
Budget subcommittees were working Wednesday on budget details, and McGrady said he could not give specifics on what would be cut from the House proposal. The Senate wanted to cut funding for about 1,700 teacher assistants this year and increase spending on teachers to reduce class sizes.
The status of teacher assistants, for example “will be the subject of negotiations between the House and Senate conferees,” he said.
Brown said the budget includes pots of money for wage hikes for specific employees. The agreement has $10 million for community college employee raises, about $1 million to increase pay for forensic scientists, and $3.7 million for highway patrol officer raises.
A $12.5 million salary adjustment fund Gov. Pat McCrory controls will allow his administration to award targeted increases for select jobs.
The agreement on pay and broad spending targets is a significant step, but work on the budget will not be finished by Aug. 31, when a second stop-gap budget runs out.
Moore said Wednesday that both chambers would take up their third stop-gap budget Thursday. This one would expire Sept. 18.
Brown said a statewide reserve of $121.4 million would be used primarily for justice and public safety, where there has been a call for increased courts staffing and operations, replacing an antiquated information technology system for the courts, hiring new technicians for the state crime lab, and increasing staff at the mental health unit at Central Prison in Raleigh, allowing it to treat a full capacity of 72 inmates at a time.
Funding for a “Film and Entertainment Grant Fund” has not been determined.
▪ Under the spending targets, education would see spending of $12 billion, less than the House $12.15 billion and more than the Senate $11.87 billion.
▪ Health and Human Services would have spending of $5.12 billion, less than the $5.28 billion House proposal and more than the $5.06 billion in the Senate budget proposal.
▪ Justice and Public Safety had $2.43 billion, slightly less than both the House and Senate budgets.
▪ Natural and Economic Resources would have $372 million, less than both the House and Senate.
▪ General Government would have $425.3 million, less than the House and more than the Senate.