- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday signed a state government budget bill that had been expected on his desk at least five weeks ago, giving teachers and state employees significant raises for the first time in several years.

The Republican governor earlier had made it clear he would sign the $21.1 billion budget, which received final legislative approval last week. His action officially authorizes adjustments to the second year of the two-year budget law approved last summer.

The measure gives $1,000 raises to most state workers and roughly 7 percent average increases for public school teachers, with a range of 0.3 percent to 18.5 percent. Teachers and state employees had received one raise since 2008: 1.2 percent increases in 2012.

“We’re rewarding them for the first time in many years in a sufficient and effective way, and we’re showing them respect,” McCrory said at an Executive Mansion ceremony.

The teacher raises are tilted largely toward those with less than 12 years in the classroom as a way to keep educators from leaving their field. The salary schedule was also reduced from more than 30 experience-based steps to six.

In keeping with an announcement last winter by McCrory and legislative leaders, the base salary for the least experienced teachers grew from $30,800 to $33,000.

McCrory also said the balanced budget required no tax increases. “We have fulfilled our promises during very tough times,” he said.

The Senate and House failed to send the adjustments to McCrory’s desk before the fiscal year began July 1 as negotiations stalled over differences between Medicaid spending, teacher pay and the future of teacher assistants.

Republicans contend current teacher assistant positions were preserved, even as total funding allocated for assistants fell $85 million compared to last year.

McCrory said Thursday the budget “has the same funding this year as last year for teacher assistants and teachers currently in the classroom.” But some school districts already say they’ll have to cut teacher assistant positions and are facing shortfalls to match salary increases for teachers who are paid with local or federal funds.

The House’s senior budget writer, Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, and State Budget Director Art Pope said this week the reduction in assistant funding reflects roughly the amount that districts shifted from that allotment last year to other education needs, such as hiring teachers and instructional supplies. Dollar said districts should have the flexibility so they won’t have to cut any assistant positions. Teacher assistants receive $500 raises.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, a teacher lobbying group, has criticized the end of longevity pay - an extra amount employees with at least 10 years of experience receive on top of their base salaries. The extra longevity amounts are being incorporated into the salary schedule, so the actual salary increases are less than advertised, NCAE said.

McCrory criticized NCAE leadership and said private sector workers “are not getting these types of pay raises” and “have never heard of the term longevity pay.”

Democrats say the budget and the teacher raises are unsustainable. They point to last year’s tax overhaul law that cut individual and corporate income tax rates, and say there won’t be enough revenues to pay for the increases without cutting deeply elsewhere. A legislative memo last month said personal income tax revenues are expected to be $200 million lower than originally anticipated next year.

“This budget hurts public education in North Caroilna,” House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, said this week. He called it “nothing more than an election-year gimmick.”

Meanwhile, other education agencies are now working through other budget requirements. The Department of Public Instruction could announce by early next week how it will meet a required 10 percent spending reduction, or $5 million, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said Thursday.

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