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RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory signed the 2014 budget bill into law on Thursday, capping months-long negotiations that saw North Carolina House and Senate leaders openly divided over key parts of the plan.
The $21 billion state budget, stuffed with dozens of special provisions, includes a $1,000 raise for most state employees, but the final number on what the plan offers teachers is a moving target as analysis of the pay provisions deepens.
Teacher pay plan under fire
When the deal was announced in late July, legislative leaders said it included the largest pay increase for teachers in the state’s history, a claim that turned out not to be accurate in terms of a percentage increase.
The North Carolina Association of Educators criticized the plan, saying it was unfair to claim that raises averaged 7 percent since the increase included already-promised longevity pay. The group also said that the plan ends a boost in pay for obtaining a master’s degree.
At Thursday’s bill signing, McCrory fired back, saying the plan offered the first significant pay raise in years and that most private-sector employees had not even heard of the idea of longevity pay.
House Majority Leader Skip Stam, R-Wake, also pushed back against the plan’s critics, telling WRAL, “I have never seen so much squealing about getting more money.”
But in presenting the benefits of the budget, even the governor dialed back the actual size of the raise, saying the average increase was 5.5 percent.
The size of the raise also varies depending on experience.
Newer teachers would see the biggest increases, with the biggest raises going to teachers with five or six years of experience.
Teachers with 20 or more years of experience would see a much lower percentage increase. A teacher with 30 years of experience or more would see less than a 1-percent change in pay.
The education part of the budget is also coming under criticism for setting out a new way in distributing funds to local school system. Systems would no longer automatically receive payments up front for enrollment increases. Instead, the districts would cover the costs and eventually be reimbursed by the state.
Superintendents across the state criticized the idea, saying it adds too much uncertainty to the budget process.
Reigning in Medicaid and more to come…
The education portion of the budget was just one stumbling block negotiators had to deal with. The other major difficulty came in reaching agreement on how to reign in Medicaid spending and cost overruns.
Senate leaders wanted to push ahead with a major overhaul of the state Medicaid program, moving it from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and making it a separate state agency. House leaders and Governor McCrory balked at the idea, saying the issues needed more time and should be dealt with next year in the longer session.
In the end, legislators decided to not include the overhaul in the budget, but agreed to hold a special session on Medicaid after the November elections.
That session could also see additional work on other disagreements between the two chambers including coal ash legislation, which remains in a House and Senate conference committee until a compromise can be worked out. [Carolina Public Press will have a complete look at the status of the coal ash plan next week.]
Despite agreement on a budget, the House and Senate are still in opposition on a number of key bills, including a plan to change local option sales taxes and a major set of regulatory changes.
The fate of those bills is uncertain, as is the exact status of the legislative session.
In an unusual move, the House and Senate adjourned under a different set of rules.
Senate leaders are now saying their members are done for the summer and won’t return until the Nov. 17 special session. Meanwhile, the House plans to start back up next Thursday and adjourn a day later. House leaders have yet to say what bills they plan to take up.
This story originally appeared on WLOS-TV and is published on Carolina Public Press through a content-sharing agreement with WLOS.