Last updated: May 16. 2014 1:56PM - 762 Views
By Abbi Overfelt aoverfelt@civitasmedia.com

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Richmond County’s state lawmakers expressed tempered satisfaction with Gov. Pat McCrory’s plan to give teachers and state employes a raise, but they’re concerned with how those pay hikes will be funded.

McCrory presented his $21 billion state budget proposal as the General Assembly convened in Raleigh for its 2014 short session on Wednesday.

“It’s still perplexes us about where some of the money is going to come from,” Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Hoke, said hours after budget director Art Pope’s presentation. “It’s obvious that there are some cuts but it’s not exactly clear where those cuts are. There’s no way you can roll out what he’s rolling out without cutting something else.”

Pierce, a Baptist minister from Wagram, represents parts of Richmond, Scotland, Hoke and Robeson counties in House District 48.

The governor’s 2014-15 spending plan includes pay increases for teachers based on longevity, with pay for teachers who have 13 or more years of experience increasing the least at 1.9 to 2.1 percent. The largest salary increase would apply to teachers with fewer than eight years in the classroom. Other state employees would receive a one-time $809 supplement and an additional $191 in their pensions.

“I’m happy that there is at least an effort to provide for raises,” Rep. Ken Goodman said. “I certainly think that we need to be competitive in teachers’ salaries in particular, and this does not get us there. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough.”

Goodman is a Rockingham Democrat who represents parts of Richmond, Scotland, Hoke, Montgomery and Robeson counties in House District 66.

Thursday’s presentation was an initiation into a budget process that Pierce, Goodman and McLaurin expect to be arduous. The Senate will be the first to draft budget amendments, followed by the House, at which point the two will convene in an effort to come to an agreement that would then need McCrory’s signature.

Teacher pay has been at the top of the priority list for Democrats and minority groups, with Goodman, Pierce and Sen. Gene McLaurin all saying that the region could lose teachers willing to relocate on the other side of a state line.

Republicans have argued that teacher pay should be based on merit rather than experience. McCrory’s proposed budget includes a “Career Pathways” pilot program, at a cost of $9.8 million, in which eight school districts will figure out a way to reward teachers for student achievement and ability to work with others.

The budget also calls for reinstating salary supplements for teachers who are working toward a master’s degree or are teaching in a degree field at least 70 percent of their work time. It leaves funding for teacher assistants the same.

“He has some good proposals,” Pierce said of the governor. He cited a program to give college scholarships to out-of-state military servicemembers stationed in North Carolna as well as McCrory’s plan to use more state lottery revenue.

McLaurin said Democratic and Republican lawmakers still have questions concerning where cuts were made, as well as how much revenue will be generated following the tax reform plan that took effect last year.

“My concern is just that we’re able to put together a balanced budget that serves the people of North Carolina well,” McLaurin said. “People on both sides of the aisle want to take a close look at revenues and expenditures.”

A Rockingham Democrat, McLaurin represents parts of Richmond, Scotland, Anson, Stanly and Rowan counties in Senate District 25.

Goodman said cuts were not made in the right places, bemoaning a direction for the University of North Carolina system to find $44 million in savings as well as a proposed policy that would increase an assessment that hospitals pay to receive more Medicaid dollars.

“… I doubt he understands that many rural and suburban hospitals are truly struggling right now, and this is going to further compound their financial woes,” Goodman said in a statement. “As a businessman for nearly 40 years, it doesn’t make any sense to me to raise the taxes on our hospitals and health care delivery systems at a time when they are already struggling to juggle the Affordable Care Act and the decision to deny North Carolinians Medicaid expansion.”

Instead, Goodman suggested tax reform measures passed earlier this year and a program that would provide vouchers for private school enrollment be repealed.

“I believe we would need to find other revenue sources,” he said.

McLaurin agreed, but said plenty of revenue could be found by trimming government waste, specifically by eliminating overinflated contracts that are awarded without a bidding process.

“I’m concerned about making sure we operate state government as efficiently as possible,” he said. “We have to look for any cost savings and efficiency savings that we can.”

Reach Abbi Overfelt at 910-276-2311, ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.

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