Governor Pat McCrory released his budget proposal yesterday, on the first day of the General Assembly’s short session. The $21 billion proposal includes raises for teachers and state employees as well new positions and equipment designed to oversee coal ash disposal. But it cuts about $49 million that would go to the University of North Carolina system.
As legislators walked into the General Assembly for the first day of this year’s short session, protesters- including a group of women called the Raging Grannies- were ready to greet them.
"You don’t represent the people, no you don’t represent the people," they sang.
Supporters then banged on pots and pans to show their opposition to the policies of the Republican-led legislature. Meanwhile, down the street at the Administration Building, the governor’s staff was getting ready for a news conference to announce McCrory’s budget proposal. The governor says his office started preparing for this back in December, when he asked departments to cut their budgets by 2 percent.
"We’ve had to make some very very difficult decisions. Which we think will have a positive impact on the future. This budget proposal has already been shared with top budget legislators in the House and the Senate, and therefore nothing should come as a surprise," said McCrory.
The primary goal of this year’s budget is to create adjustments to the state’s two-year budget cycle. Some of the governor’s suggestions weren’t surprising, given the fact that his office had already released a plan to raise teacher pay:
"In our budget, our base pay proposal will be kept in there and will ensure that no state funded teacher will make less than $35,000 within the next two years."
In addition, McCrory said, there’s an average two percent raise for all teachers, and a thousand dollar raise and benefit increase for state employees. The governor’s plan prioritizes coal ash spill cleanup and prevention, with 19 new positions and additional equipment pledged to oversee coal ash ponds. The plan would add fifty million dollars to the state’s rainy day fund, and it pledges $3.6 million more to expand pre-K programs. But it would cut 49 million dollars from the university system. State budget director Art Pope explained the reduction.
"It’s $49 million from what was originally budgeted for this coming year. About $7 million of that for example is a decrease in funding for the universities because their enrollment is going down, plain and simple," said Pope.
Pope says the reductions would also require full ride academic scholarships to be paid according to out-of-state rather than in-state tuition rate. But Democrats are skeptical that the governor’s budget will work, especially with a projected $454 million shortfall looming. Senator Josh Stein is one of them. He says past tax cuts to education and changes to the tax code have created a big problem:
"We’re one of the only states in the country that has a budget shortfall $454 million budget shortfall. And they’ve created this crisis themselves through their choices. And they know there’s a political imperative to pay teachers because they need to do it and what they’ve got at 2 percent is too little, too late."
Leaders in the House and Senate say they support raises for teachers, but they haven’t come forward with specifics. Lawmakers will begin reviewing the governor’s proposal on today. Both the House and the Senate will come up with their own budget proposals before coming to a final compromise.