Although this budget is far from perfect, I voted yes — and let me explain my reasons.
I have heard from many state employees who educate our children, clean up and pave our roads, run our courts efficiently, protect us and enforce the law and much more. I think everyone agrees that state employees and educators deserve a long-overdue pay increase.
At a time when we are ranked 46th in the nation in teacher pay, this budget will reward teachers with an average 7 percent raise — rolling longevity pay into the raise and restoring teacher tenure. This budget prioritizes reading in early grades by funding Read to Achieve and keeping teacher assistants in the classroom. The budget compromise rewards state employees with a $1,000 pay increase and rewards our non-certified school and central office employees with a $500 pay increase.
I realize this is not nearly enough, because they deserve more after having no raise with the cost of living ever increasing, but this is a step in the right direction.
I was also pleased that the compromise budget adequately funds our community colleges, universities, early childhood education and the education of children who live in psychiatric residential treatment facilities. It provides $5 million to provide grants to eligible veterans and their dependents enrolling in UNC or a community college under the federal Yellow Ribbon G.I. Education Enhancement Program.
Please understand that I have objections and concerns with teacher and state employee pay equity and am opposed to rolling longevity pay into a teacher’s salary while other state employees maintain their longevity. This is one clear example of the need for more transparency in the budget process.
In closing, I was disappointed in several last minute changes to the budget and the short length of time given for members to review and consider an almost 500-page budget — which amounted to seven hours total (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.). The citizens of North Carolina deserve better.
The lack of transparency in how our taxpayer dollars are being spent prompted me to run an amendment last week to promote openness in government (See Richmond County Daily Journal editorial: “A voice for openness.”) I remain committed to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to sustain this budget, help resolve pay equity issues and bring more transparency into the budget process.
It is my hope that when you have questions and concerns, you will reach out to me to share those. My staff is eager to help answer your questions. As always, I am grateful for and humbled by the opportunity to serve the citizens of the 25th Senate District and look forward to being in the district full-time.