The state shouldn't accept the inadequate raises approved last week by the GOP-controlled legislature, not "when we have an opportunity to do more," Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference Friday, where he said he vetoed four bills: two dealing with pay increases for teachers and noninstructional staff and two others that he said allow for "fiscally irresponsible corporate tax cuts."
But UNC System President Bill Roper noted that the teacher-pay increases that Cooper vetoed were a higher amount than what Cooper himself had proposed.
"Despite today's veto, we remain hopeful that a good working solution can be found to keep our employee pay on par with all other North Carolina state employees," Roper said. "The salary increases proposed in this bill were a higher amount than the governor himself put forth in his own proposed budget back in March. We have fought hard to work with our state's leaders to improve salary outcomes for UNC System employees, and we will continue to do so."
The pay-raise bills that Cooper vetoed included teacher raises of 3.9% over two years, including step increases for longevity. The bills also included a 2% raise for noninstructional staff.
"The General Assembly continues to shortchange teachers and non-certified personnel like cafeteria workers, bus drivers and teacher assistants, despite a robust economy and decent raises for other state employees," Cooper said in a news release.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Cooper is the one standing in the way of continued increases for educators.
"His refusal to raise teacher pay in favor of playing political games on separate issues is causing real harm to educators' families, who benefitted immensely from pay raises until he took office and began blocking them to pursue his other priorities," Moore said. "Instead of having more money over the holidays, teachers will continue to wait for Gov. Cooper to put their needs ahead of other issues."
Cooper said he was willing to negotiate salary increases as part of a "mini-budget," like previous ones that Republicans passed when they couldn't muster the votes to override Cooper's veto of the entire budget. And he said he would do so separate from the Medicaid expansion that's a main focus for the governor and is one of the reasons that Cooper and legislators are at a stalemate on the budget.
"Teachers are told to be good, loyal Democrats and their union and their Governor will take care of them. But they need to ask themselves: 'What has Roy Cooper ever done for me?' He's vetoed every single teacher pay raise that's come across his desk, and he chose today to give teachers nothing for the next two years," said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. "Governor Cooper uses teachers as pawns, blocking their pay increases then trying to convince them it's all the Republicans' fault. At some point, they'll see his cynical ploy for what it really is."
The North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's largest education advocacy group, said it supports Cooper.
"North Carolina educators rejected the Republican budget as anemic and insulting in June, and we reject essentially the same today," NCAE President Mark Jewell said in a tweet. The NCAE demands that legislative leaders "stop wasting time on failed veto overrides and unpopular corporate tax cuts and start spending time doing the hard work of governing," he said.
Legislators went home October 31 without enacting a two-year budget after a nine-month session. They'll return Wednesday to consider changes to the state's congressional district map.
The adjournment resolution says they can also return to vote on House-Senate compromise legislation that has or is already being negotiated, such as hemp farming legislation and another funding bill to pay for recent hurricane damages.
The resolution also said that overrides of Cooper's vetoes won't be considered until January. That means action can't occur on the budget bill or funding to carry out the state's long-planned Medicaid managed-care overhaul.
But legislative leaders have enough parliamentary maneuvers that they can use to take action if they decide to do so.
Teacher raises and medicaid expansion have been at the center of the budget debate between Republicans and Democrats.
"A budget shows what you value," said Cooper, sporting a red tie in support of the 'Red for Ed' campaign. "I stand here today willing to negotiate, right now. The time for coming together for finding a compromise for teacher raises has not passed."