RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A bipartisan majority of the General Assembly gave final approval to the state budget on Friday, sending it to Gov. Roy Cooper (D).
The Senate approved it by a vote of 36-8 and the House by a margin of 82-25, both with large enough margins to override a veto if Cooper were to issue one.
While the budget includes pay raises for state workers and teachers, some of them have called on Cooper to veto the budget, saying the raises don’t keep up with inflation at a time when the state is facing a historic staffing issue. Cooper has not said yet what action he’ll take.
“Vacancy rates in some of our units and departments are above 50 percent. Our hospitals and facilities are having to close down units,” said Dr. Rakesh Patel, who works at Central Regional Hospital, one of the state’s three psychiatric hospitals. “This budget does absolutely nothing to address the absolute urgency that is present at the moment. We think that facilities will be closing.”
The $27.9 billion budget, which Republicans crafted and unveiled earlier this week, would give most state workers a 3.5 percent pay raise. Teachers would get 4.2 percent raises on average. State leaders recently learned North Carolina has a surplus of more than $6 billion.
According to new data obtained by CBS 17 from the NC Office of State Human Resources, the vacancy rate among state agencies is climbing quickly. It rose from 14.7 percent in April 2021 to 21.3 percent in April of this year.
A document OSHR released in response to a request says the state is experiencing “unprecedented turnover” and facing an “urgent need for funding.”
Among employees in their first year on the job, the turnover rate has climbed to 39 percent. The number of active employees in state government dropped from 61,782 in April 2020 to 57,162 in April of this year.
Currently, about 8 percent of state agency employees are eligible to retire with full benefits. Within the next five years, that will climb to 25 percent.
When asked if he thought the raises the General Assembly approved would be enough to address the staffing issues, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said, “You know what, I don’t know.”
He said Republicans remain concerned about the potential for a recession and are setting aside $1 billion of the surplus into a new fund meant to address inflation and a downturn in the economy. The budget also increases the rainy-day fund to $4.75 billion.
“We have really bumped up the savings reserve not to save it for any kind of crazy reason but just to make sure if we run into some headwinds in the next few months, that we don’t get into a situation where we can’t pay our bills as a state,” Moore said. “I’ve been here and seen the situation where there were forced furloughs and other layoffs.”
Kim Mackey, a social studies teacher in Wake County, said teacher raises have not kept up with inflation for years, even before the dramatic rise in the inflation rate that’s occurred recently.
“We have another year where inflation really is top of mind and our state could have done better and chose not to,” Mackey said. “Even of the folks who have not yet resigned, there is a lot of talk of folks who are looking and plan to leave.”
Speaker Moore recalled what occurred during the Great Recession between 2007-2009, saying state leaders want to avoid pay cuts and layoffs.
“I’ve been here and seen the situation where there were forced furloughs,” he said. “Part of that, when you see there’s some things coming down the road that may be problems, unfortunately I would submit for a lot of the federal policies that are happening, if you’re smart you plan for that.”