RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory said Thursday he’ll veto any North Carolina budget plan on his desk that raises teacher pay dramatically like the Senate wants because it would mean huge cuts elsewhere to pay for it.
The Republican governor said he won’t risk key government services in exchange for the Senate’s offer to raise teacher pay on average by more than 11 percent.
The original Senate proposal cut $233 million for 7,400 teacher assistants in second- and third-grade classrooms, freeing up more funds to help fund the teacher raises. That plan also would have scaled back Medicaid eligibility that could affect coverage for 15,000 older adults and people with disabilities.
“I will veto the latest Senate plan or any plan that resembles it,” McCrory said in an interview with The Associated Press.
McCrory also said he’s siding with the latest offer by House Republicans to raise teacher pay on average by 6 percent, up from 5 percent. He said 6 percent is about as far as he can go and feel comfortable financially for state government.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and McCrory were already unified in opposing the Senate’s public schools budget proposal and said their plan was more sustainable and preferred by local educators and business leaders. His veto threat reinforced the lines between them and the Senate.
“Right now the Senate is standing by themselves with no visible support outside the Beltline,” McCrory said, referring to the highway loop around central Raleigh. “I’ve got a responsibility for the entire government, and I’m resolved that that responsibility is kept.”
Senate Republicans didn’t flinch, providing their own counteroffer Thursday afternoon that retained the 11 percent raises. Their proposal also identified $171 million that the House could earmark toward retaining teacher assistants or increasing Medicaid spending. They found the additional funds in part by scaling back expenditures for repairs on government buildings and reserves.
“I’m disappointed that the governor would not support the most robust raise that we could give our teachers,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told reporters.
The two chambers, which have met this week primarily to negotiate budget adjustment for the year that started July 1, might not negotiate again until early next week. Berger and chief Senate budget negotiator Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said they don’t plan to attend a public negotiation session Friday morning called by their House counterparts. Berger doesn’t anticipate other senators will attend, either.
“To compromise means to meet somewhere in the middle,” Brown said, adding, “I think you’ll see the Senate is willing to do that. And as soon as the House is ready to do the same, I think we can come to a conclusion on this process.”
The House did agree earlier in the week to remove a proposal to increase advertising expenses for the North Carolina Education Lottery to generate an additional $30 million in profits. Both sides last week shifted their numbers on how much more money was needed to cover pending Medicaid claims from the fiscal year ending June 30 and increased enrollment this year.
Democrats, the minority party in both chambers, have attended public negotiation meetings this week but weren’t allowed to make comments or ask questions. At one point, Senate Republicans walked out of a committee room when House counterparts brought in outside speakers to bolster their arguments on teacher assistants.
Leaders of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus held a news conference Thursday to urge Republicans to avoid cuts that would hurt the most vulnerable citizens. Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, said GOP leaders should consider rolling back tax rate reductions approved in 2013 to locate additional revenues.
“We just want to make sure that the most vulnerable of our society and our state are not going to have to bear the burdens of this budget,” said caucus chairman Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland.