RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) called for additional raises and bonuses for state workers and teachers on Wednesday, as inflation drives up the cost of living and the state prepares to take in billions of dollars more than originally thought.
Cooper outlined his budget recommendations as his administration continues to negotiate with Republican leadership in the General Assembly. Lawmakers return to Raleigh next week for the legislature’s short session.
“State government is experiencing what a lot of private companies are experiencing. We’re getting a lot of our talent lured away by higher pay,” Cooper said.
State Budget Director Charlie Perusse noted the vacancy rate across state government is approaching 20 percent while it had previously been about 10 percent.
“The number one priority was recruiting and retaining existing staff. And, recognizing that we were facing labor challenges like we never have before,” he said.
Cooper proposed an additional 2.5 percent raise for all state workers next year on top of 2.5 percent raises already approved in the budget. That would climb to a 5 percent raise for law enforcement and healthcare staff. Additionally, all teachers and assistant principals would see their pay adjusted to ensure they receive an increase of at least 7.5 percent over the two-year budget period.
The governor also is proposing retention bonuses for all state workers, ranging from $1,500 to $3,000.
All state employees are eligible for the $1,500 bonus. The bonus would climb to $2,000 for those making under $75,000, law enforcement officers as well as Dept. of Public Safety and Dept. of Health and Human Services employees in residential or treatment facilities.
Educators and school-based administrators would receive an additional $1,000, with most educators receiving $3,000 in total under Cooper’s proposal.
He also called for restoring master’s pay for educators and for fully funding the third year of the Leandro education plan, which a judge ordered the state to implement to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a “sound, basic education.” Republicans have appealed the decision, saying the order is unconstitutional.
Tameka Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, called Cooper’s proposals “needed.”
“Budgets show us where someone’s priorities are, and Gov. Cooper’s proposal communicates in no uncertain terms that the well-being and prosperity of our students, educators, schools and communities will be a focus for this administration during the coming budget negotiations,” she said.
In addition, he proposed a recurring 1 percent cost of living adjustment for retirees and a nonrecurring 1 percent supplement.
Earlier this week, the state’s consensus revenue forecast showed North Carolina state government is poised to take in about $6.2 billion more than expected in the current two-year budget period.
“We’re planning for tremendous growth and shared prosperity because our foundation is strong and we’re building on that success,” Cooper said.
In a statement, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore expressed some reservations about Cooper’s proposal.
“While the Governor’s budget proposal includes several shared priorities, we are wary of excessively increasing spending in the face of potential economic downturns,” Moore said.
The consensus revenue report from earlier this week also cautioned about “significant headwinds” that could impact the state’s economy, including rising interest rates and inflation as well as conflict overseas.
As part of his proposal, he calls for putting $2.4 billion in various reserve funds and leaves $1.5 billion on the table unspent.
“The governor tried to strike that right balance in recognizing that there are cost increases and facing some headwinds but also leaving some money on the bottom line,” said Perusse.
He also called for $50 million to help first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance, additional funding for capital projects which have risen in cost and funding for police body-worn cameras and equipment for law enforcement.
Cooper also once again called for the state to expand Medicaid, potentially providing health coverage to up to 600,000 more people. Republicans have resisted calls to do that for years but are now giving it a closer look. However, leaders of a committee looking into that have said they don’t plan to make a recommendation during the short session.
“Hopefully, we can make these important adjustments, not do anything radical, but get Medicaid expanded, get some additional investment into the things we need to do and hopefully go home,” said Cooper.