RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — When the North Carolina General Assembly returns to work Wednesday for its annual session, Republicans in charge say they're committed to raising salaries for teachers and state employees.
They also plan to tackle the cleanup of coal ash ponds after the Dan River spill, whether Common Core education standards should be replaced and how tax credits for film production companies should work if they're allowed to continue. There are also state government budget adjustments to make - the primary responsibility of the legislative session in even-numbered years.
Election-year politics will tinge the Legislature's work, since lawmakers are up for re-election in November and House Speaker Thom Tillis is running for U.S. Senate.
GOP leaders say they'll continue policies they argue have resulted in more money in people's pockets and dramatic reductions in unemployment. The minority Democrats are expected to keep criticizing Republicans for tax changes last year they say favored the wealthy at the expense of education spending.
Here are some key questions entering the session:
WILL ALL TEACHERS AND STATE EMPLOYEES GET RAISES NEXT YEAR? Legislative leaders and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory say they will. While Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, didn't give their full endorsement to McCrory's ambitious proposal last week to retool teacher pay, they expressed confidence about getting across-the-board raises approved. "I think that much of what the governor has outlined is well within reach," Tillis said.
McCrory proposed $1,000 more for state employees and raises for veteran teachers from roughly 2 to 4 percent. That's in addition to raising the minimum salary for early-career teachers from $30,800 to $33,000. Democrats say the short-term proposals don't reach their goal of moving teacher salaries to the national average. "Anything that gets us beyond where we are now is going to be an improvement," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, a deputy minority leader, "but it doesn't go far enough."
WILL THERE BE A SOLUTION TO CLEANING UP COAL ASH? Probably, although it's unclear what the final product will look like. And it's unlikely the Legislature will wade into who ultimately pays for disposing or moving ash in more than 30 pits near Duke Energy's coal-fired power plants. Many Democrats want the company and its shareholders pay for any statewide cleanup, not their customers with higher power rates.
But Tillis and Berger believe the issue should be left to the Utilities Commission. Expect the Senate to take the lead on the cleanup. Berger lives in Eden, where the spill occurred and Rules Chairman Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, isn't satisfied with McCrory's proposal released last month and wants to go further.
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