Today state lawmakers are taking another shot at agreeing on a budget—a task that has occupied them for more than two months. Although they initially intended to wrap up session by July 4th, the members of the General Assembly continue to struggle to strike a balance between health and education.
The debate centers around whether to spend on schools or on Medicaid, with Senators calling for large teacher raises at the expense of health spending, and the House choosing modest education increases in order to preserve Medicaid funds. Either way, someone’s going to lose.
Teachers in North Carolina are among the worst-paid in the country, with the state average falling $10,000 below the average pay for educators nationwide. Earlier this year, some politicians suggested giving teachers raises in exchange for forgoing tenure. After that suggestion was with widespread backlash, both the Senate and House dropped the proposal.
Now, as budget negotiations wind down, it seems like a battle of who will lose the least. A Senate plan has teachers getting an 11% raise while losing teaching assistants in second and third grade classrooms. The House has suggested a 6% teacher raise that keeps assistants, but eliminates funding from lottery revenues, an earlier sticking point.
Unfortunately, on Friday a planned meeting between Senate and House leaders got cancelled after members of the Senate refused to attend. They are trying to meet again today, but Majority Leader Tom Tillis has already begun to float the idea of ending the session without a balanced budget. With Governor McCrory already vowing to veto the Senate budget with the 11% raise, even if the General Assembly reaches an accord, there’s no guarantee a new budget will pass the governor’s desk.
Meanwhile, care for children and teens has also been under the hatchet during budget talks. Both House and Senate Budgets cut funding for afterschool programs, a move that will leave tens of thousands of low-income North Carolina families faced with huge bills for childcare next school year. Another budget item ends funding for drivers ed, which could result in drivers hitting the road with less training, and fewer teens being able to drive.
Some sources say Medicaid funding has been agreed upon by all parties, but others report that lawmakers have $171 million to use to support Medicaid or schools. They can allocate it however they want, but either way it’s cut, state workers potentially stand to lose jobs.