NC Republicans offer educator pay carrots for veto override

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republican legislators offered fresh carrots Wednesday for Democrats to join them in ending a four-month budget stalemate through even higher raises for public educators and staff should Gov. Roy Cooper's budget bill veto get overridden.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger announced a bill would emerge for scheduled Thursday floor votes that Moore said would inject another $245 million into public education spending through mid-2021 above what is contained in the two-year budget that Cooper vetoed in June. The extra money comes in part through the state's revenue surplus.

But there's a catch: The additional funding and pay raises above and beyond what the vetoed budget provided wouldn't happen unless that veto is overridden in the Senate. The House already overrode the budget veto last month, but Senate Republicans need at least one Democrat to join them to complete the override and enact the broader bill.

Moore told reporters the offer sends a message to some of those Senate Democrats "that there's going to be even more investment in public education" if they agree to an override. Senate Democrats have said all 21 of their members are ready to uphold their Democratic governor's veto.

One Cooper spokesman referred to the offer a "joke." The vetoed budget bill still contains corporate income tax reductions and lacks provisions to expand Medicaid through the federal health care law. Cooper wants Medicaid expansion.

"Republican leaders want sweeping corporate tax cuts and their entire bad budget in exchange for paltry teacher raises that are less than those for other state employees," said Ford Porter, Cooper's spokesman.

Under the new bill, average teacher pay would increase 3.9% over two years — the same as in the vetoed budget. But raises would reach 4.4% should that budget separately become law over Cooper's objections. The additional raises would come in the 2020-21 school year and benefit teachers with at least 16 years of experience.

If there's an override, the emerging bill also would prompt even higher pay for non-instructional school staff like janitors and secretaries, who would get 4% raises over two years and a small bonus. These workers only would get 2% raises in the stand-alone budget. Average pay increases for University of North Carolina and community college system employees also would at least double.

Cooper wanted average teacher raises that are equal to double the Republicans' offer.

Berger signaled this week he was ready for an override vote, but that vote was delayed Monday through Wednesday. Still, with Thursday's expected vote on the new offer, "we will soon learn whether Senate Democrats are more committed to the governor's Medicaid ultimatum or to what they claim is a top priority: teachers," Berger said in a news release.

Democrats sounded confident they would withstand the GOP's pressure. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, chided Republicans on the Senate floor for refusing to attempt an override when all 50 senators are present. Jackson said Republicans were waiting for Democratic absences to act.

"You need to call the vote," Jackson said. "The entire state is waiting."

The education spending offer came as lawmakers hoped to leave Raleigh on Thursday for a few weeks. The budget impasse has contributed to a session that has gone three months beyond its traditional adjournment date.

Republicans this week continued their parallel strategy of approving smaller spending bills and sending them along to Cooper. Republicans also were working to persuade enough Democrats to override Cooper vetoes on the annual "regulatory reform" bill and fund the state Medicaid program's transition to managed care.

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