RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina government spending plan proposed by House Republicans advanced on Wednesday, clearing the chamber’s budget-writing committee after several hours of debate and dozens of proposed amendments.

The two-year budget proposal would spend nearly $24 billion next year, a 3% increase over the current enacted budget law. The first of two required votes by the full House is expected Thursday.

House GOP leaders are highlighting the plan’s emphasis on saving money, streamlining state agency and higher education building construction and repairs, and offering more money to school districts to address safety needs such as hiring campus officers and psychologists.

Republican leaders said average teacher pay would rise by 4.6% next year, with an emphasis on veteran teachers.

An amendment to the budget bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday afternoon — soon after a rally by thousands of teachers and their allies had ended— finally disclosed all the specifics of the teacher pay plan.

The pay schedule would be altered only for teachers with at least 16 years of experience. There would be no changes to the current pay schedule for teachers with less experience — a move likely to draw criticism from the North Carolina Association of Educators, which organized Wednesday’s rally. The group demanded 5% raises for all teachers.

The March budget proposal of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper also said all teachers would get at least a 3% raise annually for two years. Cooper spoke at Wednesday’s NCAE rally.

The House wants to give final approval to its spending plan by Friday. The GOP-controlled Senate is expected to approve their own version later in the month, setting up negotiations between the two chambers. Cooper is likely to have more leverage in final negotiations because his vetoes can now withstand override voters if Democratic legislators stay united.

Currently teachers with at least 15 years of experience receive base salaries of either $50,000 or $52,000. Under the House proposal, experience-based steps on the pay scale would increase in $500 increments starting at year 16. That means teachers with at least 30 years’ experience would see their salary soar from $52,000 to $60,500 — or a 16% jump. Those increases also wouldn’t take effect until next January. Usually pay raises kick in when school starts.

Rep. Jeffrey Elmore of Wilkes County, a key legislator on education issues, said recently that the salary changes are an attempt to retain veteran teachers who otherwise would retire or quit. Previous years’ budgets focused on boosting salaries for new teachers, followed by middle-career educators. Teachers with 15 or fewer years of experience also would continue to get the $1,000 annual increases that the current salary schedule allows.

The measure does restore a 10% pay supplement for teachers with master’s degrees. That increase was phased out several years ago. There’s also a new bonus program that could give $4,000 to teachers who agree to work in poor, rural counties.

The House plan also would give rank-and-file state employees and local school workers like custodians and officer staff would get a pay raise equal to 1% of their salaries or $500, whichever is greater. Correctional officers and trial court administrators would receive 5% raises. Government retirees would receive a one-time, 1% payment.

Copyright 2019, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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