Retirees stand up for COLAs as budget debate nears end

Jun 10, 2016

Though there wasn’t a lot of news out of the legislature this week, SEANC lobbyists and members were busy fighting for pay raises for state employees and retiree COLAs as the budget debate comes down to the wire.

As expected, the House unanimously rejected the Senate’s budget proposal on Wednesday, and both sides named conferees who will work out a compromise. SEANC needs members to reach out to each of the conferees, particularly if they are your representative or senator, and tell them to back the House's proposal for across-the-board raises for state employees and cost-of-living adjustments for retirees. Simply click on their names on the link above to locate their contact information.

The tide seemed to turn this week in favor of across-the-board raises for state employees thanks to the efforts of SEANC lobbyists and members who contacted their legislators, as well as news stories like this one from the News & Observer featuring SEANC Government Relations Director Ardis Watkins and SEANC North Central Region Representative Wendell Powell.

Powell eloquently described the problems that correctional officers in the Department of Public Safety run into because of rapid turnover thanks mostly to the lack of pay raises year after year – a problem facings workers in all departments.

“You have new officers training new officers,” he says. “You need those guys who’ve been here 10 and 20 years to teach them the unwritten rules, the dos and don’ts. (New officers) don’t understand inmate behavior. They don’t know how things work, and that opens up the department for more lawsuits or mistakes.”

The Senate and the governor both proposed performance increases rather than across-the-board raises that were in the House budget.  SEANC is more optimistic than ever that the House may just win out and state employees will get some of the across-the-board increase they deserve.

The retiree cost-of-living adjustment is not dead, either. Thankfully, around 50 retired SEANC members turned out at the legislature on Wednesday to stand up for the need for a COLA for all retirees. They met with several legislators and their presence had an immediate impact. Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) told the retirees he supported a 1.5-percent COLA and sponsored a bill for a 1.5-percent increase, with Sen. Shirley Randleman (R-Wilkes) and Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) signed on as primary co-sponsors and 15 other senators signed on in support. Such bills are usually largely symbolic at this point since the budget proposal has passed, but it was a major victory for retirees that will show that there is major support for a COLA in budget negotiations. As you know, the House has already approved a 1.6-percent COLA, and having support in the senate is a very positive development.

This proves what SEANC has been saying all along – members can have a huge impact by coming to the legislature to lobby in person. We hope that each of you will consider taking a day off to come to lobby and speak with your legislators about the issues affecting your lives. 

Budget negotiations are sure to go quickly now. With state employee and teacher pay, retiree COLAs and tax deductions the major sticking points left, we could see a compromise as early as next week, and it’s likely the General Assembly will leave town completely before the July 4 holiday.

Please continue to contact your legislators to tell them you need raises and COLAs, that you can’t afford another increase in your health care costs, and that retirement security is a priority for you.