RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said Wednesday the latest budget proposal legislators sent to Gov. Roy Cooper (D) this week included higher raises for state workers than what was in their previous proposal, but he declined to give any specifics of the closed-door negotiations.
Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the months-long budget process has become “increasingly frustrating” as the state has unprecedented resources through federal stimulus money and North Carolina’s own multibillion-dollar surplus.
“Our school districts are feeling the effects of a teacher shortage, a bus driver shortage, and our students need a state budget in place in order to make sure they have the resources they need,” she said. “Our students need the resources, and our state has the resources. So, what we’re seeing now is a disconnect.”
The process has been shrouded in secrecy since the House passed its version of the budget in August.
As the talks have gone on for months, state leaders have been unwilling to say specifically what the disagreements are.
“What’s happened in the meantime is the economy has changed. The job market has changed since they first started talking about this budget, radically,” said Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. “You have fast-food restaurants a half a mile from a prison or a (Department of Health and Human Services) facility that are offering $20 an hour and benefits and putting it on a sign.”
After the budget process two years ago failed to reach a compromise between Cooper and the Republicans, they’re trying a different approach by keeping their negotiations private to see if they can reach an agreement.
“The longer this drags out, the more the expectation is that the raises will be significantly higher to correspond to the change in the market,” said Watkins. “There’s no reason not to give significant raises because we’ve always been told we just don’t have the money. We do here. This is a question of the will.”
The current fiscal year began on July 1, but it’s unclear how much longer state leaders will attempt to negotiate.
Going into the process, the Governor proposed higher raises for teachers and state workers than Republican legislators did. The General Assembly pushed for tax cuts for people and businesses that Cooper had not included in his budget proposal earlier in the year.
Moore said Wednesday that Republicans have not included Medicaid expansion in any of their budget proposals to Cooper. They have stuck to their tax cut plan, he said, though he didn’t say precisely what that entails.
“Just to honor our agreement with the Governor, he hasn’t given any details and we haven’t. So, we want to honor that,” he said.
When asked how much longer the private back-and-forth will continue before the public is informed of what the negotiations entail, Moore said, “We should be getting close. We’re either getting to the point of having a compromise with the Governor or simply proceeding with a legislative budget.”
If the Republicans can’t reach an agreement with Cooper, they would have to convince a handful of Democrats to join with them on overriding a veto in order to get a budget enacted.