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Tillis: NC House not backing teacher raises that require significant educator cuts elsewhere

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — House Republicans aren't budging in their opposition to a final North Carolina government spending plan that raises teacher pay significantly if it also means cutting funds to employ thousands of current public school educators, Speaker Thom Tillis said Friday.

Tillis' comments came after House negotiators canceled a public budget negotiation meeting for Friday morning because Senate leaders said Thursday that they would not attend. The two chambers are slowly working through finalizing budget adjustments to the second year of the two-year state budget. The new fiscal year began July 1. The House announced another public budget meeting for Monday.

"Hopefully next week we'll be able to bridge the gap," said Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, who is also a U.S. Senate candidate.

Tensions rose late in the week as senators walked out of a meeting and Gov. Pat McCrory threatened to veto any plan that contained the Senate's proposal to raise teacher salaries on average by more than 11 percent. McCrory said such a plan would be too costly with cuts elsewhere in state government. McCrory is siding with the latest House plan, which would raise teacher salaries by 6 percent on average.

The latest Senate offer sets aside $171 million for House leaders to plug holes in teacher assistant funds or to beef up Medicaid. Senate leaders say they have already compromised plenty with the House but that teacher pay is most important to them.

"The House has said that their top priority is Medicaid and teacher assistants," Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Thursday, adding the Senate's offer provides money the House "can use to go toward their top priorities."

In a separate meeting with reporters Friday, Tillis and chief House budget writers cited data showing the additional funds were still not enough to avoid cuts.

If the entire $171 million was earmarked for teacher assistants, the Senate's proposal to eliminate optional Medicaid services for the medically needy could result in lost services such as long-term care to 31,000 people, according to their presentation. If all the money went to Medicaid, funds for 6,200 teacher assistants and teachers would be eliminated. Some local districts spend money for assistants on teachers.

Splitting the funds could mean both job and service cuts, according to Republicans.

"This chamber is not willing to fire thousands of educators: teacher assistants and teachers. That's the offer on the table today," Tillis said. "I honestly believe that the Senate is prepared to compromise on that. But we're not willing to compromise on thousands of educators."

Tillis raised the potential of adjourning the General Assembly for the year without budget adjustments in place. But he said the House and Senate need to at least approve legislation that would raise the base salary floor for the least-experienced teachers to $33,000 this fall and $35,000 the following school year. McCrory, Berger and McCrory pledged publicly in February to pass legislation for those increases.

"We just need to make sure in the worst case we accomplish that," he said.

Berger spokeswoman Amy Auth said late Friday in an email the Senate won't walk away from its proposed 11 percent raise, which she called "the biggest teacher pay raise in state history."

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