In passing budget, North Carolina Republican senators reject teacher pay increases, funding elections board

North Carolina Senate Republicans passed their version of a spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, ignoring amendments offered by Democrats to bump teacher pay, boost funding for the State Board of Elections and other measures.

After debate that stretched beyond 9 p.m. and saw the tabling of eight amendments, the chamber passed Senate Bill 195 on third reading 36-10.

The document spells out the Senate’s plan for a one-year adjustment to a two-year budget plan passed last year, though it is at odds with the House’s version on how to spend a $1 billion budget surplus the state currently enjoys. 

SB 195, which is identical to HB 317 amends the 2023 appropriations acts by appropriating an additional $525 million to the  budget already enacted, bringing the total budget outlay to $31.4 billion, a 5.5% increase over the 2023-2024 budget and 1.7% more than the enacted 2024-2025 budget.

An amendment to put a moratorium on private school voucher payments, also called “opportunity scholarships,” by Wake County Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, was the first to be tabled by the chamber’s Republican majority.

Sen. Lisa Grafstein, a Democrat representing Wake County, proposed adding $100 million back into the budget for Medicaid payments to state residents with disabilities, which she called “basic health care for folks” that is “a critical need in our communities.”

The amendment was immediately tabled by Republican senators. 

Next up was Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat representing Mecklenburg County, who proposed two amendments to the spending plan. The first would have provided an additional $2.3 million to the State Board of Elections to fill vacant positions and update its operating systems ahead of the election in November.

“We all want safe and secure elections. That’s one of the things we can agree on in this body — Republicans and Democrats and unaffiliated — safe and secure elections,” Marcus said. “And yet, year after year, this legislature refuses to provide the basic funding that the State Board of Election needs to do its job that’s been completely left out of this supplemental budget. And it’s a travesty.” 

The SBE has numerous vacant positions, including support technicians and application system analysts, Marcus said. She described the board’s website and the state Election Information Management System as old as an Atari gaming system, which was introduced in 1972.

That amendment also was immediately tabled without debate. In the Senate, a motion to table precludes debate on any amendments and immediately forces a vote. In each case on Monday night, Republicans moved to table amendments offered by Democrats and proceeded to vote them out of consideration. 

Having watched that scenario play out at least three times, Sen. Kandie Smith, representing Edgecombe and Pitt counties, proposed giving state employees an additional 5% raise over the 3% already baked into the spending plan passed last year. Her amendment also would have provided a 2% cost-of-living increase for state retirees. The measure was consigned to the table. 

Sen. Natalie Murdock then put forth an amendment to invest $4 million in maternal and reproductive health care, to protect maternity leave for state employees and ensure access to in vitro fertilization treatments. It, too, was tabled. 

Finally, Sen. Rachel Hunt, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, offered an amendment to spend an additional $384.6 million on teacher pay increases. She praised the bones of the budget but said it was woefully inadequate at making North Carolina competitive for attracting public school teachers. 

“Parts of this budget are a step in the right direction including some funding for childcare support for a university system and additional funds to increase access to broadband in rural North Carolina,” Hunt said. “All of these measures are good. However, we have a glaring gap in this budget. Our public school teachers are being treated as second class citizens with the mediocre salaries we plan to pay them.”

 As he had done several times before, Republican Sen. Ralph Hise quickly moved to table the amendment, where it remained. 

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