Teacher Raises and Wider Access to Health Care on Hold as NC Budget Deadline Looms

A silver alarm clock illustrates that time is running out for the North Carolina budget to be approved by July 1.

Could history repeat itself? North Carolina legislators were unable to come to an agreement in 2019, leaving the state grappling with temporary budgets and gaps in the amount allocated for crucial services.

By Michael McElroy

June 11, 2021

If North Carolina wants to give teachers pay raises, help more residents get insurance, repair roads and improve schools, it needs to pass a budget quickly before the new fiscal year begins.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Replublican leaders of the General Assembly have to settle on a budget by July 1 or face another year of financial turmoil. Leaders in both parties had expressed optimism earlier this year that they could reach a deal, but with only a few weeks left to go, history seems poised to repeat itself.

Legislators were unable to come to an agreement for a full budget as 2019 wound down, and for the past year the state has been paying its bills with a series of temporary budgets and procedural moves, leaving huge gaps between the amount needed and the amount spent on crucial services.

Gov. Cooper released a detailed budget plan in April, pledging more than $27 billion over the two-year term to keep the state running and to address long standing problems.

Rep. Tim Moore and Sen. Phil Berger, the Republican leaders of the NC House and Senate, have not yet reached a deal between them, but agreed last week to cap their proposal at $25.7 billion. It does not include provisions to expand Medicaid, one of Cooper’s top priorities.

While Cooper said he would not veto any budget over one issue, he said he would do so if he found it materially lacking. Cooper’s office said this week that the amount proposed fell “far short.”

Nothing will really happen if the new fiscal year begins without a new budget – and that’s the problem. The old budget would kick in, and the old budget leaves teachers, those without health insurance, and many North Carolinians in general with inadequate resources, especially as the state tries to get its footing in what is hoped to be the final stages of the pandemic.

Here is a quick look at what we know about the competing budget proposals and what will happen if no deal is reached.

What’s at stake:

Expanding Medicaid: More than 30 states have accepted federal money to help expand Medicaid. NC is not one of them. Some 500,000 North Carolinians stand to gain health coverage if the Republican-controlled General Assembly would agree. Cooper vetoed the budget the assembly passed in 2019 because it did not include Medicaid expansion. So far there does not seem to be any new common ground.

Raises: Pay increases for school employees was another big disagreement in 2019. Cooper wanted raises, the GOP did not. On this issue, there now seems to be a chance at a deal. Cooper’s budget would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour for non-certified school employees like cafeteria workers and provide 10% raises for teachers. Berger and Moore said they would include some form of pay raises in their budget too.

Expanding Broadband: Cooper’s budget would spend $30 million to bring high speed internet to rural areas, where schools and small businesses had to go digital during the pandemic. An already glaring concern became a crisis for many families.


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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