MONROE (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory signed a budget Thursday that he says fulfills his promise to increase average teacher salaries above $50,000.
McCrory held a ceremony at a Union County elementary school to sign the $22.3 billion state spending plan the General Assembly sent him two weeks ago on the last day of its annual work session. McCrory’s signing was expected as he never made any public pronouncements against the proposal, which adjusts the second year of the two-year budget approved last September.
The budget includes a few perks for Robeson County.
Included in the spending plan is a measure that will lower tuition at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and two other schools to $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students beginning in fall 2018. The budget includes $40 million to offset the loss of tuition revenue at the three schools, as well as a one-time appropriation of $675,000 for UNCP.
Although the plan stoked worries among UNCP alumni and supporters, Chancellor Robin Cummings has said it could benefit UNCP as well as students who otherwise might struggle to attend a four-year university.
Additionally, the budget includes $165,000 to build two barns containing 50 horse stalls each at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center. Fifty-three towns, including Lumberton, were awarded $94,340 downtown revitalization grants in the budget.
“Generally speaking it was an overall good budget … It was decent,” said Rep. Ken Goodman, who represents Robeson. “There were more good things in it than there were bad. That’s why I voted for it. If everyone voted against the budget because there was something in it they didn’t like we would never have a budget.”
The measure raises teacher pay by 4.7 percent on average and should increase the expected teacher salary from all funding sources, including local supplements, to above $50,150, according to a budget document created by the General Assembly’s nonpartisan fiscal staff.
The final teacher pay provision hammered out by House and Senate Republican budget writers differs from McCrory’s proposal, which also had included large one-time bonuses. The measure, however, does provide performance-based bonuses for third-grade and some high school teachers.
Rank-and-file state employees also get a 1.5 percent pay raise and bonuses of at least 0.5 percent. There are also income tax cuts through higher standard deductions of $1,000 to $2,000 — depending on one’s filing status — that will be phased in this year and next.
There was no tax cut or across-the-board raises for state employees in McCrory’s original budget proposal, released at a time when there was a predicted $237 million surplus in the previous year’s budget. The surplus ultimately grew to $425 million.
The law puts $474 million more in the state’s rainy-day reserve fund.
Sen. Jane Smith, a Democrat who represents Robeson and Columbus counties, preferred the House’s proposed budget over the final compromise. She would have liked to see “more done for our veteran teachers, state employees and state retirees.”
“But you have to weigh things when voting for a budget and in this budget the good outweighed the bad,” she said. “Overall, I felt it provided for the two counties I represent. And besides, this was just the short session where we tweaked the budget that had been prepared the year before. You can’t expect a lot of new money items.”
Thursday’s focus was primarily on the teacher raises, an issue that spilled over into the gubernatorial race between McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.
The governor was surrounded by teachers, local officials and legislators as he signed the bill. Behind them was a banner that read “Teacher Pay to $50K.”
McCrory’s campaign soon after announced an online ad campaign with teachers praising the governor for the pay raises and those in recent years under Republican control of state government. Campaign manager Russell Peck said Cooper allowed the public schools and teacher pay to decline while in the legislature previously and in state government: This budget “continues to right the wrongs under Roy Cooper and previous leadership.”
But Cooper’s campaign said the budget didn’t go far enough to help teachers who are being plucked out of their classrooms from districts in other states. The campaign pointed to a projection by the nonpartisan Public School Forum of North Carolina that North Carolina’s average pay will jump from ninth among 13 Southeastern states to seventh.
Thursday’s event was “vintage Pat McCrory: a campaign-style rally with a giant banner paid for with taxpayer money, touting a plan that makes big promises but doesn’t actually get the job done,” Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement.