News: Quick Takes

GOP leaders: We’ll keep passing budget items both sides want

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, at a May 2018 news conference. (CJ Photo by Don Carrington)
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, at a May 2018 news conference. (CJ Photo by Don Carrington)

The N.C. House on Wednesday, Aug. 28, unanimously passed pay raises for state employees. 

H.B. 226 would grant state employees a raise of 2.5% for each of the next two years. H.B. 126 would increase pay for the State Highway Patrol, and HB. 777 would give raises to staff of the State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement. All three bills passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday.

The bills head to Gov. Roy Cooper, who vetoed the General Assembly’s budget plan, which included the raises, in part because it failed to include Medicaid expansion. The stalemate over the budget continues, so lawmakers are taking things piecemeal. 

Legislative leaders said they would continue passing uncontroversial parts of the budget, leaving more contentious issues open for negotiations, unless Cooper gives Democrats leave to override his veto without political blowback.

“These are consensus salary increases that should reach the paychecks of North Carolina’s public servants as soon as possible,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement. “The people who protect us and operate our state government [shouldn’t] have to wait to earn higher take-home pay for their families just because there are areas of the budget where we disagree.”

Lawmakers will return the week after Labor Day to introduce other bills with bipartisan support, said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. They include measures easing the backlog in rape-kit testing, enhancing prison safety, funding disaster relief, and boosting school safety.

Cooper issued a news release Wednesday afternoon noting teachers still don’t have a pay raise. While Republicans want a 3.9% raise over two years, Cooper proposes an 8.5% increase.

Berger says he’s putting off a separate bill with the teacher raises because there’s disagreement about the specifics.

“The governor has said that we’re allied on the vast majority of the budget, so let’s show the people we represent that we’re capable of moving forward on things we agree about,” Berger said. 

The pay raises for correctional officers in particular, Berger said, would help with dangerous understaffing issues. The disaster relief would help communities still suffering from floods left by recent hurricanes.

Tuesday, Cooper said in a news conference that Republicans in the General Assembly have issued him an “ultimatum,” with regard to passing their budget without Medicaid expansion. Berger said it’s clear there aren’t enough votes in the legislature to expand Medicaid, but he still wants to discuss health care. But that conversation should occur apart from the budget.

“We are serious about having a substantive and hopefully productive conversation in a session that’s devoted exclusively to health-care access,” Berger said. “We cannot do that because the governor insists it has to be a part of the budget process.”

Dialogue between Cooper and the General Assembly leaders has been sparse since the governor’s budget veto in July. Berger said his most recent conversation with Cooper was via a letter Tuesday.

“I just don’t understand why the governor would oppose passing things that he says he supports,” Berger said.