As schools opened their doors to students across North Carolina this week, the budget stalemate dragged on with no end in sight. Taxpayers have now spent more than a million dollars since Governor Cooper’s veto to support Republicans’ false hopes of an override. The daily cost is roughly equivalent to the average salary of a public school counselor. Let that sink in for a minute.
Here in Charlotte, educators who worked hard last year to help elect a more education-friendly Board of County Commissioners and saw a county budget passed which makes CMS teachers the highest paid in the state are not seeing a single cent of that raise while the impasse continues.
A new piecemeal strategy is emerging with state legislators introducing a series of “mini budget” bills which are essentially just individual pieces of the state budget Cooper vetoed two months ago. On Friday the governor signed into law pay raises for state employees such as State Bureau of Investigations, Alcohol Law Enforcement and Highway Patrol. The bill did not include pay raises for educators. Cooper said, “We appreciate our hardworking state employees across North Carolina. However, Republicans are insisting that teachers get a smaller pay raise than other state employees. This hurts our efforts to attract and keep highly qualified teachers in every classroom. I urge Republican legislators to pass a pay raise that doesn’t shortchange teachers.”
Pay raises for some educators were actually proposed in a separate bill this week. Under the House proposal, non-certified staff including custodians, bus drivers and teaching assistants would have received an insulting 1% annual increase.
When House Republicans got wind that their Democratic counterparts planned to offer amendments to increase the pay raises, they resorted to a little-known legislative trick to prevent those amendments from being heard.
Here’s how CMS Government Relations Coordinator Charles Jeter explained the shenanigans in his weekly newsletter:
A little known rule in the NCGA is the amendment process to bills on the floor. See, most people assume that any relevant matter to a bill can be put forward as an amendment. And in most cases that’s true. So if we’re debating a bill about the speed limit and the bill says NC is going to lower the speed limit to 65mph statewide, I could make an amendment on floor to change it to 100mph statewide instead. But, I cannot run that amendment if it changes the title of the bill. So my amendment to change the statewide speed limit to 100mph is perfectly fine if the bill title is An Act to Set the Maximum Speed Limit in North Carolina. But that exact same amendment is out of order and cannot be considered if the title of the bill is An Act to Set the Maximum Speed Limit in North Carolina to 65mph. See, if the title of the bill includes a specific speed limit, then by NCGA rules, I cannot make an amendment to change the proposed speed limit of 65mph since it would change the title of the bill. Got it? Well welcome to HB 426. See HB 426 was dealing with pay raises for non-certified school district employees, state retirees, and community college employees among others. But while the Republicans in the House assumed that this bill would pass just as quickly and unanimously as the other four similar bills did, they were surprised to learn that the Democrats decided to file about ten amendments to adjust the percentage of pay increases listed in the bill. Since the House Republicans were primarily focused on passing pay raises that matched the exact same numbers that were in the budget passed by the NCGA back in June, Democrats decided this was the perfect opportunity to start stalled budget negotiations again. And now, because these amendments would change the title of the bill, they could no longer be offered. In response to this bill title change, the Democrats pledged to vote against the bill, and with that, the bill was removed from consideration with no indication whether or not it will ever be considered again.
In case you’re curious, the title Republicans gave the bill is as follows:
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT CONSISTENT WITH THE PROVISIONS OF THE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE AND COMMITTEE REPORT FOR HOUSE BILL 966 OF THE 2019 REGULAR SESSION (1) APPROPRIATING FUNDS TO AWARD LEGISLATIVELY MANDATED SALARY INCREASES IN EACH YEAR OF THE 2019-2021 FISCAL BIENNIUM TO EMPLOYEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT A FUNDING LEVEL SUPPORTING A ONE-HALF OF ONE PERCENT INCREASE AND TO EMPLOYEES OF THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM AT A FUNDING LEVEL SUPPORTING A ONE PERCENT INCREASE PURSUANT TO POLICIES ADOPTED BY THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AND THE STATE BOARD OF COMMUNITY COLLEGES, RESPECTIVELY, AND ALSO APPROPRIATING FUNDS FOR FACULTY RETENTION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA IN THE AMOUNT OF SIX MILLION DOLLARS FOR THE 2019-2020 FISCAL YEAR AND ELEVEN MILLION FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY-THREE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED THIRTEEN DOLLARS FOR THE 2020-2021 FISCAL YEAR, (2) APPROPRIATING FUNDS FOR THE 2019-2020 FISCAL YEAR TO PROVIDE A ONE PERCENT SALARY INCREASE FOR NONCERTIFIED PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEES OR A PRORATED AMOUNT AS APPROPRIATE AND EXPRESSING THE INTENTION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO APPROPRIATE FUNDS FOR THE 2020-2021 FISCAL YEAR TO PROVIDE A ONE PERCENT SALARY INCREASE FOR NONCERTIFIED PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEES OR A PRORATED AMOUNT AS APPROPRIATE, (3) REQUIRING THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION TO STUDY AND REPORT TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST AND SCHOOL COUNSELOR POSITIONS, (4) SETTING THE EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION RATES FOR RETIREMENT AND RELATED BENEFITS, (5) PROVIDING TWO ONE-TIME COST-OF-LIVING SUPPLEMENTS THAT ARE BOTH IN THE AMOUNT OF ONE-HALF OF ONE PERCENT OF A BENEFICIARY’S ANNUAL RETIREMENT ALLOWANCE, (6) APPROPRIATING FUNDS TO IMPLEMENT CONNER’S LAW, AND (7) AMENDING SPECIAL INSURANCE BENEFITS OFFERINGS.
Republican legislators seem to be operating as if they still hold a veto-proof majority. They don’t. It’s time for lawmakers to come to the table and engage in good faith negotiations, including allowing for the debate which is so essential to a healthy democracy.