As the state continues to finance recovery from hurricanes Matthew, Florence and Dorian there is another storm creating economic havoc that needs to be addressed. This storm goes by several names - novel coronavirus, COVID-19 and most recently Wuhan Coronavirus. No matter what it is called, the fear and subsequent economic challenge of this newest natural disaster needs immediate action.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper is to be complimented for focusing on the public response to the highly contagious disease. But this new health scare has an economic challenge as well. The governor needs to focus on cushioning the state from the impending economic impacts resulting from declining investment and business activity during the COVID-19 epidemic.
The solution is simple - the governor needs only to remove his veto of the state budget and allow the state’s coffers to open up for needed community and educational services.
The governor, frustrated that he could not move the N.C. General Assembly to expand Medicaid, vetoed the 2020 biennial budget in an effort to bully the Republican leadership in the legislature to meet his demands. That veto is beginning to reverberate across the state as teachers in both primary education and community colleges go without any substantive pay increases as proposed in the 2020 budget. The lack of salary increases is very apparent in the community college system and can have far reaching impacts on that sector of the state’s educational system.
Julie Havlak reported in the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal that professors in the state’s community colleges earn less than K-12 teachers in the state’s public schools. This pay inequity is creating concerns in the administration of the college system and is resulting in unfilled teaching positions.
North Carolina is recognized as the originator of the community college system and has the third largest system in the country with a current enrollment of over 700,000 students in its 58 campuses state wide. Despite the obvious success of the current program, the state’s community college salary system ranks sixth from the bottom in comparison to the other state systems.
Considering how important community colleges have become in the past decade as a provider of an educated and trained workforce for businesses currently in the state, and those considering locating in North Carolina, it is imperative to address the salary inequities.
But the economic barriers posed by the governor’s veto don’t stop with salaries. There are hundreds of millions of dollars of capital funding for school construction that are frozen as well by the governor’s veto.
According to N.C. Senator Norman Sanderson (R), Minnesott Beach, because of the governor’s veto $52 million has been denied to his 2nd senatorial district alone. Among the funds bottled up for his three-county district are $36 million in capital funding for K-12 schools and $10.2 million for capital improvements for Carteret, Craven and Pamlico community colleges.
The removal of the veto will go a long way in helping the state weather the financial storm resulting from the COVID-19 virus epidemic and in the process, position the state to take advantage of the economic rebound that will surely occur once the epidemic is past. This is not the time to play politics; the governor must release the state budget so action can begin immediately.