Fiscal facts for Forest

By Scott Mooneyham | Sep 23, 2013


RALEIGH -- Lt. Gov. Dan Forest might want to consider one of the lessons that Gov. Pat McCrory has been learning since assuming the state's top political job back in January.


In Raleigh, politicians who go around making off-the cuff remarks that aren't backed up by facts tend to get a little dinged up. The media and interest groups aligned with the opposing political party usually hold you accountable for what you say.


That Forest doesn't quite get that was evident when he recently said he wants North Carolina to have the highest-paid teachers in the country, and that we can get there without raising taxes.


The Greensboro News & Record quoted Forest saying, "I think there's plenty of money in government. We'll figure out a way to do it."


Apparently no one told state budget writers, as they cut teaching assistant jobs and eliminated other educational programs. Maybe they did away with those jobs because they thought it was a fun exercise.


And no one must have told Forest that there will be $600 million less in state government coffers in the future because of that major tax overhaul approved while he watched on as the presiding officer of the state Senate.


But those are the broad strokes.


Let's dig down into the nitty-gritty of what it would take to make North Carolina public school teachers the highest-paid in the country.


Right now, North Carolina ranks 46th in teacher pay, according to a report from the state Board of Education. Rankings in 2011-12, from the National Education Association, showed the state even further down the last, at 49th among the 50 state and the District of Columbia.


NEA statistics put the average salary for North Carolina public school teachers at $45,947. The top-paying state, New York, paid its public school teachers an average of $74,944.


The difference between those two pay rates is $28,997.


There are roughly 95,000 classroom teachers in the North Carolina public schools.


To raise those North Carolina public school teachers to the same average pay as those New York school teachers would require $2.75 billion annually.


Last time I checked, not too many discretionary accounts in state government had $2.75 billion lying around, just ready to be plucked for any use.


Carving $2.75 billion out of the state's prison budget would mean releasing hardened criminals into the street. Carving $2.75 billion out of the state Medicaid budget would mean closing a big chunk of North Carolina hospitals and turning away the poor.


Raising teacher salaries is a laudable goal, but Forest's comment was beyond absurd.


It reflects ignorance of the budget realities facing the state of North Carolina.


There is no money tree on the grounds of the state Capitol. There is no Las Vegas where state governments go to hit the jackpot.


North Carolina cannot jump from near-bottom to the top of teacher salary funding while living on a state budget where money is likely to be as tight tomorrow as it is today.


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