The devil, as they say, is in the details, and as is always the case with budgets as thick as the General Assembly’s that are largely crafted in the backroom, it takes time before all the dark print is illuminated.
So we proceed at the risk of eating our own words.
But it appears a compromise budget that Senate and House leaders agreed to recently has a little something that everyone can like — and it’s not the right-wing manifesto that those on the left worried that Republicans green-lighted by veto-proof majorities in both chambers, might produce, and even includes $700 million more for education than the current budget.
The General Assembly has continued to build on last year’s effort to better pay teachers, providing an average pay hike of 3.3 percent — and 9.6 percent over two years of the budget. A local teacher who made $40,000 this year will be looking at an additional $1,600 and some change in pay next year.
In addition, if the budget survives as it now is assistant principals’ pay would rise even higher, principals would benefit from new performance bonuses, rank-and-file state employees would get $1,000 raises, and retirees would get a 1 percent cost-of-living pension increase.
We know there will be complaints that the Republicans didn’t do enough, but wages in the private sector are flat, and there are a lot of public employees who in recent years have not received cost-of-living increases.
The Republicans, as Republicans do, also delivered on tax cuts, but the surprise is they are weighed heavily toward year two of the budget. Republicans say when enacted, they will benefit 99 percent of income tax filers. Starting in 2019, the individual income tax rate would fall from 5.499 to 5.25 percent and the corporate income tax, already the lowest in the country among states that impose one, would fall from 3 to 2.5 percent.
Of keen interest in our area, the budget provides $100 million more for Hurricane Matthew recovery. It also earmarks $100 million in lottery profits over two years to help poor counties such as Bladen try to build new schools.
Other highlights include 3,500 slots for the state’s prekindergarten program, reducing the waiting list by 75 percent, and $10 million to battle the growing opioid epidemic across the state.
That is, as we indicated, a quick first look and there will be more to discover in the coming days.
We are certain as details emerge there will be things to dislike, and Gov. Roy Cooper has already threatened a veto, a pretty empty threat except that is helps him politically. But the budget, at about $23 billion, increases spending, invests in education, provides tax cuts, boosts savings, and pushes forward the recovery from Hurricane Matthew. So some people’s fears, including ours, have not been realized.
— The Robesonian, Lumberton
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Trying to please everyone is a recipe for stress.” (Unknown)