News: CJ Exclusives

Governor vetoes pay raises, which teachers may not see until 2020

General Assembly would have to modify resolution for next week's session or call separate session to schedule overrides before January

North Carolina public school teachers and higher education employees hoping to get a pay raise will have to wait. Perhaps until January.

Gov. Roy Cooper, at a Friday, Nov. 7, Executive Mansion news conference, announced a veto of four mini-budgets, including measures giving preK-12 teachers a 3.9% raise, boosting salaries to community college and university employees, and offering cost-of-living adjustments for state retirees. 

Cooper also vetoed a bill reducing the state’s franchise tax on businesses and expanding tax subsidies to film production companies.

Finally, he nixed a bill funding the Department of Information Technology. In it were provisions to upgrade cybersecurity and modernize IT at the Department of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly will return Wednesday, Nov. 13, to take up some unfinished business from the recent session, and probably to review new congressional maps. But veto overrides aren’t on the agenda.

At least they aren’t in the resolution passed Oct. 31, when lawmakers took a break. 

Senate Joint Resolution 694 says in the November session, lawmakers can take up redistricting measures, resolve pending conference committee reports, and fill vacancies. Possible veto overrides have to wait until Jan. 14. Unless the legislature amends that resolution.

“Under the current adjournment resolution, veto overrides are not eligible for the November session that begins next Wednesday. Barring any amendment to the current resolution, veto overrides will be considered in January,” Lauren Horsch, a spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in an email to Carolina Journal.

Cooper vetoed the bills anyway.

With public school teachers standing behind the governor dressed in red, symbolizing the “Red4Ed” campaign run by the N.C. Association of Educators teacher union, Cooper said, “Let’s stop this stubborn insistence on passing more corporate tax cuts” and funnel more money into public education.

“The paltry pay raises in this legislation are not enough,” Cooper said. Teachers would rather get nothing than the increases the Republican-led General Assembly enacted.

He also said non-instructional employees in schools were “short-changed” in the bills.

Cooper vetoed the $24 billion General Fund budget June 28. Since then, lawmakers have passed a host of mini-budgets, many by solid bipartisan majorities. They largely funded programs Cooper offered in his budget proposal, or items receiving bipartisan support in the legislature’s original budget.

The vetoed budget had a larger teacher raise, 4.4% over the biennium.

The House voted to override the veto in September amid controversy. The Senate hasn’t collected enough votes to override, and the General Assembly adjourned temporarily, with a return set for next week.

Cooper said a proposal offered Thursday by Senate spending committee leaders was a good place to open negotiations — a possible “settlement.” In it, senators offered teachers a 4.9% raise plus a $1,000 bonus.

The governor said he was encouraged by the flexibility, but wanted that $1,000 bonus folded into the salary structure. A bonus would come from one-time money, while a salary increase would be baked into future budgets.

Also for the first time, Cooper said he would take Medicaid expansion off the table during possible negotiations about pay raises.

But when asked if he would initiate negotiations with lawmakers, Cooper initially demurred. 

“I just read this press release [offering the 4.9% raise and $1,000 bonus] last night,” he said.

After being pressed further, Cooper said, ‘I’ll make the call.”

Legislative leaders quickly fired back. In a statement, Berger noted the Red4ED backdrop.

“Teachers are told to be good, loyal Democrats and their union and their Governor will take care of them. But they need to ask themselves: ‘What has Roy Cooper ever done for me?’ He’s vetoed every single teacher pay raise that’s come across his desk, and he chose today to give teachers nothing for the next two years,” Berger said.

“Governor Cooper uses teachers as pawns, blocking their pay increases then trying to convince them it’s all the Republicans’ fault. At some point, they’ll see his cynical ploy for what it really is.”

In a separate release, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said teachers had received nearly a 20% salary increase since 2014.  

“[Cooper’s] refusal to raise teacher pay in favor of playing political games on separate issues is causing real harm to educators’ families, who benefited immensely from Republican pay raises until he took office [in 2017] and began blocking them to pursue his other priorities,” Moore said.

“Instead of having more money over the holidays, teachers will continue to wait for Gov. Cooper to put their needs ahead of other issues.”

Cooper has vetoed 38 bills in the first three years of his term. That’s a record, including governors who served eight years in office.

The bills Cooper vetoed Friday: 

Editor’s note: This story was corrected after publication. The initial version misstated the amount of the teacher pay raise in the mini-budget. We apologize for the error.