NC House budget boosts state employee and teacher pay

RALEIGH - The House Appropriations Committee got their look at the chamber's proposed budget Tuesday. The $22.225 billion budget is an increase in spending from last year by 2.3 percent. It contains salary raises for most state employees, but in particular a raise for teachers up to about 5% of their salary, with an average raise of just more than 4 percent each. Teachers with more than 25 years experience would get 2 percent raises with $1,000 bonuses, while a teacher with less than 5 years experience would just get the bonus. The highest raises are in the 10-14 year experience level, the point where workforce analysts say most teachers decide whether or not to stick with the profession.

According to a study released by the National Educators Association last week that North Carolina is increasing teacher pay the fastest in the nation. The data showed the recent increases in teacher pay have moved N.C. up six spots nationally from the 47th highest teacher pay in the country to number 41. North Carolina had the 19th highest teacher salaries in the nation in 2002, dropping to the low of 47th in 2013.

In the House budget state employees other than teachers would get across the board raises averaging 2 percent with a $500 one-time bonus. Governor McCrory's budget, released last week gave state employees a 3% bonus with raises for just corrections officers and other high-risk jobs.

Also in the House proposed budget is a gradual increase in the standard income tax deduction of $2,000, phased in over four years. The standard deduction is for those who choose not to itemize their deductions on their tax return.

"It doesn't help people at the top because they itemize," said Rep. Jeff Collins (R-Rocky Mount). "It helps people that take the standard deduction which is the people at the middle and lower end of the spectrum."

Rep. Paul Lubke proposed an amendment that would restore the state-level Earned Income Tax Credit, which was initiated in 2007 with a planned sunset as part of the recession and phased out in 2014. EITC is a program that credits low-income people for their tax burden and allowed them to collect a check from the state that often exceeds the amount they might pay in taxes. The program cost the state $105 million dollars in 2011.

"The earned income tax credit rewards work that does not pay a living wage," said Rep. Luebke (D-Durham)

However the measure to restore the credit didn't gain much steam as committee members hashed out the details. "You and I both know this amendment is not gonna pass," Rep. William Brawley (R-Matthews), Senior Chairman House Finance, said to Luebke in committee.

Rep. David Lewis explained that restoring the earned income tax credit was not needed, saying, for the average family, previous and ongoing tax reforms dwarf the benefit of such a credit.

"I want to commend the author of the amendment for being creative and recognizing the Republican lead tax reform, which has expanded the zero percent bracket for a family, married, filing jointly, from $6,000 to $15,500 and now seeks to expand it further," Lewis said.

House committees are scheduled to hash out details of their respective sections of the budget over the next couple days as myriad amendments to the budget are considered.

"I would anticipate that the [budget] bill will be on the floor [of the House] tomorrow," said House Appropriations Senior Chairman, Rep. Nelson Dollar. Dollar said they expect to have a House budget passed by close of business Thursday.

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