RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As the General Assembly neared votes on the state budget, a group representing state workers called on Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to veto the Republicans’ budget bill, calling it “terrible.” 

Republican legislative leaders unveiled modifications to the existing two-year budget Tuesday, which includes a 3.5 percent pay raise for most state workers in the new fiscal year beginning Friday. Teachers would get raises of 4.2 percent on average. 

Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association, said those raises don’t go far enough to keep up with inflation and won’t do enough to keep employees on the job. 

“That’s a dire situation. We can’t recruit and we can’t even retain right now. Something has to be done,” said Watkins. “The state employees we have are trying to cover everything, but it becomes physically impossible at some point. And, so, I think the infrastructure collapses.” 

Gov. Cooper called for five percent raises and one-time retention bonuses. In making the case for that, officials in his administration noted the turnover rate among employees in their first year was 36 percent in 2021. The overall vacancy rate in state government was about 20 percent.  

The proposed raises for state workers are higher than the 2.5 percent increase that was originally approved last year. 

Since then, state leaders have learned North Carolina is projected to have a surplus of about $6.2 billion this year and next year. 

Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), one of the top budget writers in the state House of Representatives, said he’s concerned about a potential downturn in the national economy.  

“We do think that we need to go into this next year in a very cautious state planning for a pretty deep recession, I think, that’s on its way,” he said. 

Gov. Cooper has not said yet whether he plans to sign or veto the budget bill. Republicans aim to pass it by the end of the week.  

“We’re working within certain limitations, and we did what we felt like was a fair and just budget throughout. Yeah, there’s some people who won’t like it. I think there’s a lot more people who like it than don’t like it,” said Rep. Lambeth.  

On Wednesday, a group of parents, educators and advocates also called for lawmakers to fully fund the Leandro school plan, which a court recently ordered state leaders to provide the funding to implement. The current budget proposal does not do that. 

Among other provisions, the Leandro plan calls for additional raises for school employees and additional Pre-K slots. 

Kirsten Bankhead, a parent, “At the school my son recently graduated from, they have space and resources to have a three-year-old class. But, that administrator can’t find any teachers.” 

Republicans in the legislature have rejected the idea that a court can order the state to fund the Leandro plan. 

“We looked at what the requirements are for funding public education in North Carolina and appropriated dollars to do that. How that matches up with what a non-profit in California determined was an appropriate amount, I couldn’t say,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).