North Carolina House gives initial OK to $21B state budget

Differences between the budgets from the state House and the state Senate may not get settled before legislators head home for the summer.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Members of the North Carolina House approved their $21 billion budget in a second reading Thursday night by a vote of 81 to 36, but the differences between the House budget and the Senate budget may not get settled before lawmakers head home for the summer.

Top Republicans are increasingly skeptical that they'll reach a deal on the budget in the next few weeks. They don't have to because we're half way through a two-year budget cycle. But if they don't, it would mean no teacher raises next year and that could have serious consequences.

Mark Jewell, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, has been dialed in to the budget debate for months, specifically, the promises of pay raises for teachers by the just about every top Republican.

The budget proposed by the NC Senate would give teachers an 11 percent raise on average if teachers give up "career status," or tenure.

The state House budget does not include that stick, but the carrot is a lot smaller: an average raise of 5 percent.

Jewell said he preferred the budget that caused the least damage to public education.

"Of course, the less damaging to North Carolina schools is the house budget, but it still has glaring holes in it," Jewell said.

There's always the possibility that legislators cannot find common ground and go home, leaving the existing budget intact and leaving teachers without a raise. Jewell said that would be "unconscionable."

"This would be the sixth out of seventh year where teachers would again be asked to wait again until next year as teachers continue to leave to choose other opportunities in other states, or other careers." he said.

But NC State Professor Andy Taylor believes lawmakers will come up with a budget that gives teachers raises -- if only for self-preservation.

"These are fairly big differences between the House and Senate budget," said Taylor. "We have an election coming up and all 120 members of the General Assembly are up for re-election in the fall."

There's also the U.S. Senate race pitting House Speaker Thom Tillis against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan.

"It would be difficult to say, 'amongst our Republican selves, we could not agree,'" Taylor said.

Before the House and Senate can begin to try to reconcile their differences, the House budget must past a third and final reading beginning Friday at 8:30 a.m.

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