Update: May 31, 2018, 9:21 a.m. The budget passed the final vote in the Senate Thursday, 36-14.
Senate lawmakers gave an initial thumbs up to the 2018-19 revised budget today, despite Democrats’ concerns over both the budget process and some of the content of the conference report. The News & Observer ran an article earlier today with the headline, “NC Republicans threaten Democrats who vote against the budget.” The only Democrat who voted for the budget was Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene.
The $23.9 billion budget, released Tuesday the night before it made its first appearance in the joint appropriations committee, includes raises for teachers and principals, as well as a host of other provisions and funding for education. The total spending proposal amounts to $885 million more than was budgeted for 2018-19 in the two-year budget passed last year during the long session. While many Democrats say that Governor Roy Cooper’s proposal was better and that the Republicans should have included portions of it, one of their biggest complaints is with the budget process.
Republican leaders began meeting before the session started to hammer out the details of the budget. That budget was then stuffed into a conference report, which, under the rules of the House and Senate, means that amendments couldn’t be added. Democrats were left only able to debate the merits of the proposal.
“For as long as I’ve been in the legislature, I’ve never seen a budget bill come through without even the chance to fix a misspelled word,” said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, the Senate minority leader.
Some Democratic lawmakers even held a press conference Wednesday to announce what amendments they would have proposed if they had been allowed. Multiple Democrats speaking against the budget on the Senate floor took a similar tactic.
Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, wanted to amend the portion of the budget related to school safety.
“My issue to you is that your budget does not pay attention to the issue,” she said. “It does pay attention to some extent, but ignores the full solution to keeping our children safe at school.”
The budget includes $28 million in new, mostly one-time, grant money for school safety. The funds cover a diverse array of areas, including an app for students to report threats, more money for school personnel, training for mental health professionals, and funding to make school buildings safer.
Governor Roy Cooper has his own school safety plan in his budget proposal. It amounts to a total of $130 million, including $65 million for making buildings safer and $40 million for additional personnel. Democratic lawmakers also floated a similar plan, which included some gun control measures as well.
Robinson suggested an amendment that would take money from tax cuts slated to go into effect next year and funnel it into a school safety plan similar to the Governor’s. Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, a Republican who presides over the Senate, denied all attempts at amendments.
Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, also tried an amendment, this one to reinstate extra pay for teachers who go on to get a Master’s degree. This is a bonus that once existed in the budget but was eliminated years ago.
While Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, did not try to put forth an amendment, he did point out the differences between the Republican’s budget proposal and that of Governor Roy Cooper’s. In particular, he singled out teacher pay.
Under the Republican’s proposal, teachers receive a 6.5 percent average pay raise — instead of the 6.2 percent planned last year. That includes veteran teachers, those with 25 years or more of experience, who the Republicans have been criticized for leaving out of other pay raises in recent years. Veteran teachers will now make about $52,000 a year instead of the $51,300 planned in the two-year budget.
In the Governor’s plan, teachers would have received an average 8 percent pay raise. That would have meant a minimum 5 percent pay increase to all teachers, with some making as much as 14.8 percent more. It would cost more money to implement the Governor’s plan, a difference he planned to fund through changes to the personal income tax and corporate tax cuts slated to go into effect next year.
Chaudhuri pointed out that North Carolina is 37th in the nation for teacher pay and 39th for per-pupil spending, before stating that the Governor’s budget “didn’t even get a second look by this General Assembly.”
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the Senate majority leader, challenged the notion that the Governor’s budget was better. He said that the Governor would have spent all the state’s money, ignoring the deficit it might have created next year by anticipating that a budget surplus would fill the hole.
“That’s easy to do when you know that’s probably not going to happen,” Brown said.
He also went on to tout Republican’s teacher pay increases over the past five or six years, saying that lawmakers have spent more than a billion dollars increasing salaries for teachers in that time.
“I think you’re trying to fool people by telling them this is a bad budget when you know it’s really not,” he said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said he didn’t understand the Democrats outrage. He said that they could have introduced the Governor’s budget into the General Assembly, but they did not. He said Republicans had to do it as a courtesy.
“So I’m not sure how many people actually think that’s such a great proposal,” he said.
See our coverage of the budget contents here for more details on all the education funding and provisions, or see the budget for yourself below.
The House and Senate both have to take two separate votes on the budget, so today’s approval is just the first. The House is expected to take its first vote tomorrow.
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