RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Statewide elected officials in North Carolina will receive significantly higher pay raises than state employees and teachers under the budget the General Assembly passed Friday.
The Senate took the final vote on the budget Friday morning. Shortly after, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said despite his objections to it, he will allow it to become law without his signature.
Republican lawmakers spent the last several months negotiating the budget, revealing the final plan to the public Wednesday evening.
The budget includes pay raises that will be 7 percent on average over the next two years for state employees and teachers.
For state employees, that breaks down to a 4 percent raise in the current fiscal year and a 3 percent raise next year.
A review of the budget shows that elected officials will receive much more.
Gov. Cooper’s pay will jump by nearly 20 percent this year, reaching $198,120. The salary climbs to $203,073 next year. Cooper’s office noted he did not request the raise.
Supreme Court Justices and Judges on the Court of Appeals will all receive 15 percent raises this year, according to an analysis of the budget by the Office of State Budget and Management. Chief Justice Paul Newby’s salary will match the governor’s pay of $198,120.
Officials on the Council of State, which includes positions such as the lieutenant governor and attorney general, will receive 7.5 percent raises this year, which means their salaries will grow to $157,403.
Democrats cited the disparity in pay during the debate on the budget.
“It’s spitting in the eyes of the state employees, who we so depend on,” said Sen. Dan Blue (D-Wake). “There’s a shortage of people willing to do most of the things we’re asking people to do for state government.”
CBS 17 asked Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) about the raises and why elected officials are receiving as much as they are.
“North Carolina salaries for the statewide elected officials are much lower than for other states,” he said. “We just felt like it was time for us to try to address that. I don’t think we’ve got the raises that actually put our folks ahead of many other states.”
According to the Council of State Governments, North Carolina’s salaries for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer all exceed the national average.
The National Education Association released a report this year showing that teacher pay in North Carolina ranks 34th nationally. It has moved up from 36th in the nation last year and 39th in the country two years before that.
“And, remember when we took over in 2011, average teacher pay in North Carolina was in the mid to high 40s,” said Sen. Berger. “We’re continuing to move in a positive direction as far as that’s concerned.”
On Friday, Gov. Cooper said he’s declining to veto the budget so there will be no further delay in Medicaid expansion taking effect.
“Instead of providing North Carolina’s hardworking teachers and state employees with meaningful raises in the budget, Republican legislators decided to pass plans that will gut funding from public schools and give wealthy corporations massive tax cuts. While the Governor will allow the budget to become law to begin Medicaid expansion and provide life-saving support for rural hospitals, the budget does not give teachers and state employees the overdue raises they deserve,” said Jordan Monaghan, a spokesperson for Cooper in a statement.
Ardis Watkins, the executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, called on lawmakers to provide a $5,000 “Christmas bonus” later this year. Her organization also had urged lawmakers to give state workers a 5 percent raise this year and next year.
“We don’t have to operate like a state that is broke. We don’t have to operate with very minimal services for our public,” said Watkins. “Until something terrible happens, it is not uncommon that legislative bodies don’t bite the bullet and fund things the way they need to.”
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said lawmakers could consider additional pay increases next year. Currently, state employees are scheduled to get a 3 percent raise in the second year of the budget approved Friday.
“The conversation that kind of happened behind the scenes was go ahead and put in what we know we can afford right now but with an eye that in the second year to be able to increase that as well,” Moore said.