RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As state workers and teachers warn of staffing shortages, leaders in the General Assembly are aiming to unveil their proposed changes to the state budget as soon as Tuesday, now that Republicans have reached a deal with each other.
Republican and Democratic legislative leaders met with Gov. Roy Cooper (D) over the weekend and were continuing discussions Monday with the goal of ending the legislative session by Saturday of this week.
While Republicans in the House and Senate have an agreement, it’s unclear if Gov. Cooper will agree to it.
State government agencies have been struggling to hire and keep employees on the job. The Office of State Human Resources recently noted the turnover rate among first-year employees was 36 percent last year. Overall vacancies in state government positions was about 20 percent, the agency noted.
With the inflation rate at a 40-year high, both Democratic and Republican leaders have called for further pay raises to try to keep teachers and state workers employed.
“Come August, we will be on the precipice of an extreme teacher shortage and also I would just say an extreme staffing shortage,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “Bus drivers, cafeteria workers (are) leaving when they can go work in other consumer markets and get paid fairly more.”
The most recent report from the state Department of Public Instruction showed there was an 8.2 percent attrition rate among teachers from March 2020 to March 2021, which was an uptick from the previous year but similar to the few years before that.
Under the budget that the legislature passed last year and that Gov. Cooper signed into law, most state employees and teachers are slated to receive raises of 2.5 percent on average beginning Friday. Cooper said last month those raises are insufficient and called for doubling them to 5 percent while also providing one-time bonuses aimed at employee retention. He called for using a portion of the state’s anticipated $6.2 billion surplus to pay for that.
Republican legislative leaders have met behind closed doors in recent weeks in an effort to finalize an agreement among themselves on a budget proposal to take to Gov. Cooper.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said they agreed on pay raises early in the process but has not said what those are.
It’s unclear if Gov. Cooper is willing to sign into law what the Republicans plan to vote on this week. The legislative leaders are aiming to pass a budget by the end of the week to wrap up the current session and leave Raleigh.
“This is one of those sessions where it’s not even necessary that you adopt a budget. It’s preferable. I would rather do that because circumstances have changed because of, frankly, mismanagement out of Washington DC and what we’re seeing as far as record inflation,” said Speaker Moore.
Though Republicans have not made their budget proposal public yet, Moore has said he’s confident that enough Democrats in the House would vote with the Republicans to override any potential veto by Gov. Cooper.
Earlier this month, Senate Democrats unveiled a plan to send every adult with a valid North Carolina driver’s license a one-time tax rebate of $200, which they say would help people deal with the rising cost of gas. The payments could be used for any purpose though.
Republicans did not rule the idea out but have said their preference is to accelerate the timeline of cutting the state’s personal income tax rate. It’s currently 4.99 percent and scheduled to drop incrementally each year to 3.99 percent in 2027.
Gov. Cooper did not propose tax cuts in his budget plan, but has since shown support for the one-time rebate. He criticized the idea of cutting the income tax rate, saying it would also benefit “the wealthiest among us.”
Speaker Moore said he did not agree to including Medicaid expansion in the budget. He has proposed a bill that calls for the Cooper administration to negotiate a deal with the federal government before holding votes in December. He said the topic is still under discussion.