GOP budget, done in secret, benefits the working poor

The Republican leadership in the General Assembly last week ran a misdirection play, and it could make Democrats a bit dizzy as they campaign in the fall in an effort to have a bigger voice in Raleigh.

While the Republicans’ budget process, which is being done in secret and without input from the Democrats, was being roundly blasted — and fairly so — work was being done to provide a “living wage” to state employees who work full time but can’t support a family.

The Republicans on Thursday emerged from the back room and unveiled the budget, which had a little bit for almost everyone, and a lot for some.

The plan, which is detailed in a page 1A story in today’s paper by staff writer Scott Bigelow, most importantly raises the minimum salary that a state worker can be paid from $24,200 to $31,200, an increase of about 30 percent. We don’t know the number of people in Robeson County who would benefit, but we will assure you it is substantial — public school custodians and cafeteria workers, housekeepers and groundskeepers at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, administrative assistants, and many more.

The increase will push the wage to the equivalent of about $15 a hour, which Democrats pushed for as a minimum wage last year. An obvious difference is the state can afford the wage, while not all private employers can, some of whom would have to lay off employees and whose businesses would immediately be put at risk.

It won’t only be the lowest paid who benefit from the budget. It also calls for a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for other state workers, 6.1 percent for teachers, 8 percent for Highway Patrol troopers, 4 percent for corrections officers, and a one-time bonus for retirees in the amount of 1 percent of that person’s pension.

Most of the noise has been about teacher pay, and how the 6.1 percent is misleading as some teachers get a lot and some get nothing. Perhaps the same pot of money can be spread more equitably.

The budget is just a plan, but there is no reason to believe it will not survive substantially as it is. The Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both chambers, and while Gov. Roy Cooper will offer his own plan, expect the Republicans to do as they wish. And that has included crafting the budget to the exclusion of Democrats, which has angered members of that party.

That’s the bathwater, and the pay increases are the baby.

Republicans have been consistently portrayed as the party that gives tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations while ignoring the middle class and the working poor. The budget they have introduced will be tricky for Democrats, who will have to modify their talking points. The Democrats now have to walk a tight line as opposing a budget that substantially benefits so many of the state’s working poor could cause the party problems on Nov. 6.

Less talked about has been the state’s ability to afford substantial pay increases for so many people. Republicans will tell you that their strategies of fewer regulations and tax cuts has freed up the economy, spurring investment that will float a lot of boats, row boats as well as yachts.

Their budget certainly appears to do that — and has put the Democrats in an awkward position as campaigns begin for the General Election. Republicans have given a lot of people who traditionally vote Democrat something to think about when darkening the ballot.