RALEIGH (July 6, 2022) – With the 2022-23 budget they unveiled and adopted last week, state legislators simply aren’t taking care of their people – our people.
The state has a $6.5 billion revenue surplus this year. Let that sink in: $6,524,141,444.00.1
Yet this state continues to systematically underfund public education. By one estimate, the budget falls $443 million short of what a court found would provide a sound, basic education to every child in North Carolina.2
Last year legislators promised state employees – including K-12 teachers, community-college instructors and university faculty – a raise of 2.5% in 2022-23.3 (Average teacher pay in North Carolina, meanwhile, ranks 34th in the nation4 – is that anything to brag about?)
And 20% of state jobs are vacant5 – maybe legislators like it that way, but that might just indicate they’re not paying folks enough. This ain’t rocket science.
Meanwhile, inflation is raging at an annual rate of 8.6%.
So in the new budget, and despite that enormous surplus, they granted state employees an additional raise of 1%, for a grand total of 3.5%. K-12 teachers, with their separate pay scale, would receive an average raise of 4.2%.
That’s less than half the rate of inflation those workers confront when they go to the grocery store or fill their gas tanks these days.
That’s paltry. Or as Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue labeled it, “a form of sabotage.”6
Translation, as legislators campaign for re-election this fall: Compared with inflation, that’s a pay cut.
Sure, they stashed $1 billion in an inflation reserve and $1.6 billion in a rainy-day fund so the state can balance its books if we have a recession. But how do those teachers and those community-college instructors balance their books at the kitchen table? Are legislators daring them to find another job?
Pay for community-college instructors is particularly galling: North Carolina’s instructors rank 41st in the country in pay7 – yet another ranking about which it’s hard to boast.
The State Board of Community Colleges laid out a rational plan for legislators to raise faculty pay by 8% over three years, not to the national average, but just to the average of our neighboring states.8
And legislators ignored it.
With Toyota, VinFast9 and Boom SuperSonic10 all headed to North Carolina, who’s going to train those workers if we can’t keep community college faculty?
A portion of that $6.5 billion in surplus dollars is federal largesse – one-time money furnished by Congress during the pandemic.
Even Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has given up referring to inflation as “transitory.” But if legislators still believe it’s a temporary thing, they should use those one-time dollars to give state employees a one-time bonus to cope with rising prices.
They might just see their spirits pick up. They might see those vacant jobs fill. They might see fewer teachers leave the classroom.
And they might just see more of our children educated.
1 https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2021/Bills/House/PDF/H103v4.pdf, p. 9.