Press Release

North Carolina House seeks higher worker pay, child care and voucher money in budget bill – The Virginian-Pilot

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina teachers and state employees would receive higher salary bumps than are currently planned, while child care providers could access some financial aid as federal assistance ends in a state budget measure advanced Tuesday by House Republicans.

They are running their own a bill that would adjust the second year of the two-year state government budget enacted last fall because private negotiations with Senate GOP counterparts on a consensus spending plan in recent weeks have faltered. Senate leader Phil Berger has complained that House GOP leaders want to spend more than Republicans in his chamber are willing and from reserves.

So House Speaker Tim Moore decided to move a House-only measure through his chamber this week to emphasize their priorities and potentially prod senators to act. But the move raises the threat that legislators could adjourn this summer without a budget law that contains wide-ranging adjustments.

A top House budget-writer downplayed the current differences with the Senate, suggesting the two sides were only a couple hundred million dollars apart on spending, largely over teacher pay, a proposed retiree bonus and Medicaid provider rates.

“It’s a matter now of taking a few items that are still — I call them stumbling blocks — and getting those resolved the best we can and then get back on track,” Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican and senior budget co-chairman, said after the budget committee approved the $31.7 billion plan. Lambeth was hopeful a compromise could still be reached next week.

The bill would set aside $135 million in one-time funds to replace child care stabilization grants from Washington that began during the pandemic but are to end come July. It falls short of the $300 million that some child care advocates say are needed to keep centers from raising tuition, laying off workers or even closing. The Senate has been less inclined to fill the hole.

House Republicans said the $135 million is equivalent to 75% of the stabilization grants currently received and give officials time while looking for a long-term solution.

The enacted second year of the budget already has rank-and-file state employees poised to receive 3% raises in the coming year, with teachers on average also receiving 3% raises. But under the House plan making its way through three committees on Tuesday state employees would see 4% raises instead, while correctional and probation and parole officers would get 9% raises.

And teachers would instead receive average 4.4 % raises, according to Moore’s office, with early-career instructors obtaining the largest percentage increases. First-year base teacher salaries would grow from $39,000 during this school year to $44,000 in the fall — a move to make North Carolina more attractive to new teachers.

The measure does include provisions passed separately by the Senate last month that would provide over $460 million more to the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program to help end waiting lists of nearly 55,000 students who are qualified to receive scholarships this fall to attend private K-12 schools. There was a massive increase in program applications after legislators last year did away with income eligibility caps that had limited recipients. The language also would address higher permanent demand for scholarships.

The bill also spends $350 million already within a state Medicaid reserve fund to address higher-than-anticipated enrollment and $150 million in another reserve to pay for transportation projects designed for a new Toyota electric battery plant being built in Randolph County that will employ thousands.

The bill would head to the Senate after planned House floor votes Wednesday and Thursday. Berger has suggested that his chamber may not offer a competing plan, but instead could send the Senate home for an undetermined period if no agreement with the House is reached by June 30.

Any final spending measures would go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who offered his own budget plan in April. He wants to block expansion of the school-voucher program, offer higher raises to teachers and state employees and spend hundreds of millions of dollars more for child care and early education initiatives. But Republicans hold narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers, meaning they don’t need Cooper’s support if they remain united.

Democratic Rep. Julie von Haefen of Wake County called the unveiling of House spending plan “really all theater” since she said it likely will be ignored by the Senate.

“We’re going through the motions here,” von Haefen told reporters. “They’re not really serious about actually getting things done in this building.” She said House Democrats will seek to offer amendments and promote Democratic priorities in floor debate.

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