North Carolina

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes teacher raises, calling them ‘paltry’ — and wants to negotiate

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed the legislature’s proposed raises for North Carolina teachers, calling them “inadequate.” Instead, he wants to negotiate for higher raises.

“It’s clear to me that legislators want to do this, and we shouldn’t accept these paltry pay raises when we have an opportunity to do more,” Cooper told reporters Friday morning at a news conference at the Executive Mansion in downtown Raleigh.

The Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly had approved average teacher raises of 3.9% over two years, including step increases for longevity. Lawmakers also passed 2% raises for non-instructional staff.

But most Democrats opposed the bill containing those raises, and the Democratic governor announced Friday that he had blocked them.

Cooper said he would negotiate pay raises separately from Medicaid expansion, which has been at the center of the budget stalemate more than four months into the new fiscal year.

Cooper cited Senate Republicans’ news release earlier this week mentioning bigger raises and a $1,000 bonus for all teachers. Republicans said they offered Senate Democratic leadership a proposed 4.9% raise for all teachers plus the one-time bonus as part of a budget deal.

“I’m ready to talk about that as a settlement to this, in addition to more pay for school personnel and community colleges and universities, that we’re talking about. I don’t think that’s enough, mind you. I proposed 9.1[%] and we compromised at 8.5, but I think we’re at a point now that we need to compromise in some middle ground,” Cooper said.

Tied to budget veto override

In a news release, Senate leader Phil Berger said Cooper is using teachers as “pawns.”

“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.

Berger spokesperson Pat Ryan said Friday that the 4.9% proposal was part of a larger proposal to Democrats that was contingent on the Senate overriding Cooper’s veto of the overall state budget. The House already overrode Cooper’s budget veto.

House Speaker Tim Moore criticized Cooper’s veto in a news release.

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

Cooper said there is potential and time to give teachers higher raises than what was in the bill he vetoed.

He said raises for non-instructional personnel are part of the negotiations, too. “They really get shortchanged in this, and that’s one of the reasons I’m vetoing this legislation, because it’s not enough,” Cooper said.

Universities, colleges and other state employees

Rachel Storms teaches high school English in Greenville, and joined Cooper for his news conference. She said it is frustrating that raises have been delayed so long after the momentum of the May 1 teacher march.

Karen Slade, an exceptional children assistant at Southern Alamance High School, was at the May 1 march and joined Cooper at his announcement. She said she has not gotten the same raises as other state employees.

Cooper signed a bill in August that gave most state employees raises of 2.5% in each of the next two years, for a total of 5%. He also signed into law raises for correctional officers and employees of the State Bureau of Investigation, Alcohol Law Enforcement and State Highway Patrol.

“We do the work. We are vital to the education of our children. When we’re not included, it makes us feel unappreciated and not important, when we know that we are, and our children know that we are,” Slade said.

The North Carolina Association of Educators released a statement that the group stands behind Cooper’s veto.

“North Carolina educators rejected the Republican budget as anemic and insulting in June, and we reject essentially the same today,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said in the statement.

“We stand behind Governor Cooper’s veto of this bill, and demand the leaders in the General Assembly stop wasting time on failed veto overrides and unpopular corporate tax cuts and start spending time doing the hard work of governing. Educators, students, and families have been waiting and watching since January, and it is past time for Republican leadership to work in good faith towards the public education priorities they (purport) to embrace,” Jewell said.

The governor vetoed three other bills on Friday, too: House Bill 231: UNC System & Community College Pay; Senate Bill 578: Reduce Franchise Tax and House Bill 398: Information Technology Budget.

“The General Assembly shortchanges our universities and community colleges and their employees, as well as state retirees, despite a robust economy and decent raises for other state employees,” Cooper said in a statement about his veto of the UNC system and community college pay bill. “Higher education is North Carolina’s best economic development tool, and we must invest in education to keep it that way,” he said.

University of North Carolina System Interim President Bill Roper emailed a statement about the veto of the UNC system raises.

“Despite today’s veto, we remain hopeful that a good working solution can be found to keep our employee pay on par with all other North Carolina state employees,” Roper said in the statement.

“The salary increases proposed in this bill were a higher amount than the governor himself put forth in his own proposed budget back in March. We have fought hard to work with our state’s leaders to improve salary outcomes for UNC System employees, and we will continue to do so,” he said.

Franchise tax bill vetoed

The franchise tax bill would have reduced by a third the tax on corporations doing business in North Carolina. Republicans want to eventually eliminate the tax, saying it is bad for business. But Democrats said the loss of tax revenue, which would be about $1 billion over five years, is too much.

Sen. Paul Newton, a Mount Pleasant Republican, last month called the franchise tax a “job killer.”

Republicans and Democrats expected Cooper to veto the tax cut.

Jared Walczak of the Tax Foundation — a think tank in Washington — told The News and Observer previously that franchise taxes are “a relic of an earlier era.” Just 16 states still have the tax.

NC Chamber President and CEO Gary Salamido called the franchise tax “an onerous and regressive tax on North Carolina businesses that discourages them from investing in our state,” the N&O previously reported.

But Cooper described the franchise tax reduction as prioritizing corporate tax cuts over investments in education.

After the veto Friday, Newton released a statement saying that the governor “reaps the benefits of Republican-led tax policies that make North Carolina the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business.”

“He has no problem attending ribbon cuttings and doling out incentives to individual companies, but he won’t sign a bill reducing the burden on businesses already creating jobs in our state,” Newton said in the emailed statement.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Domecast politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Megaphone, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.
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