RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the state budget into law Monday and announced he plans to lift the state of emergency tied to the COVID-19 pandemic next month. 

Cooper had faced calls from some state workers to veto the spending plan because raises don’t keep up with the rate of inflation, but Cooper said doing that would be “counterproductive” as Republicans continue negotiating a deal to expand Medicaid coverage, a long-time priority Cooper has had. 

The governor said the budget “includes critical investments in education, economic development, transportation and the state workforce. This budget does not include Medicaid Expansion, but the leadership in both the House and Senate now support it and both chambers have passed it. Negotiations are occurring now and we are closer than ever to agreement on Medicaid Expansion, therefore a veto of this budget would be counterproductive.” 

Cooper also said because the budget includes some regulatory changes the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services wanted, he’ll lift the COVID-19 state of emergency on August 15.  

In a joint statement, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger and Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said, “The General Assembly passed the 2022 budget with strong bipartisan support, and we are pleased Governor Cooper signed this responsible spending plan into law. Moving forward, we are committed to working together to improve healthcare access and expand Medicaid, while providing the necessary safeguards to preserve the state’s fiscal strength. Active negotiations are occurring now toward that end.” 

Republicans crafted the $27.9 billion budget proposal behind closed doors during the legislative session, unveiling it to the public and to Democrats during the last week of the legislative session. 

Even with a projected surplus of more than $6 billion, legislative leaders decided against additional tax cuts beyond those approved last year and put billions of dollars into reserve accounts as concerns of a potential recession mount. 

“The concern was spending more right now when we don’t know what kind of financial headwinds we’re going to be facing as a state,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). 

The budget plan calls for most state workers to get 3.5 percent raises this year and for teachers to get 4.2 percent on average. 

Groups representing state workers and teachers were critical of the plan, pointing out the raises are lower than the rate of inflation. The State Employees Association of North Carolina even called on Cooper to veto the budget. 

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While some Democrats echoed those concerns during debate on the budget, it passed by large margins in both the House and the Senate.  

“We could have easily chosen to take care of state employees and we chose not to,” said Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange). “We’re talking about state employees and teachers who are living in a situation today where they can’t keep up with the cost of living.” 

Data from the NC Office of State Human Resources shows that state government is having trouble both hiring and retaining employees. The vacancy rate climbed to 21.3 percent in April. Turnover among first-year employees also reached 39 percent. Additionally, one-quarter of the state’s workforce will be eligible to retire with full benefits within five years. 

“This has been culminating in the last six to nine months. I think our elected officials should have seen this. It was very obvious to us,” said Dr. Rakesh Patel, who works at Central Regional Hospital, one of the state’s three psychiatric facilities. 

He said vacancy rates in some units and departments has climbed over 50 percent and the state has utilized more expensive travel staff to try to deal with the issue. 

“If this is not an emergency, then I don’t know what is,” he said. “Our hospitals and facilities are having to close down units.” 

Cooper had called for 5 percent raises this year plus bonuses aimed at retention.