Home Opinion OPINION: An inhospitable working environment

OPINION: An inhospitable working environment

I grew up the son of a state employee. My father served as a district court and superior court judge. In exchange, he received a steady salary, good health insurance, and a generous pension program. He could have made more money in the private sector as an attorney, but the benefits helped offset the difference and made the job a bit more attractive.

After 12 years of Republican governance, state employees have seen their benefits cut and their pay frozen. Our entry-level teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. State employees are no longer eligible for health insurance as part of their retirement packages. Working conditions have deteriorated as the GOP cut funding for programs across the board. Now, we’re facing staff shortages for vital services in a tough labor market and the GOP has left government jobs less competitive.

When Republicans took control of state government after the 2010 election, they went about trying to downsize government while giving huge tax cuts to the richest citizens. They successfully cut the budgets of our state university system and our public schools. We now rank near the bottom in per pupil pay. Teachers regularly pay for school supplies out of their meager salaries. Consequently, teacher vacancies are up more than 50% since last year.

In districts across the state, schools can’t find bus drivers, making access to school difficult for students of working families. Orange County recently raised pay to $20 an hour for drivers. That may help with the shortage, but, as of right now, every day we get a message about which routes will not be running and which ones will late.

Some of the problem is a lack of workers. People retired after the pandemic and the rapid growth in our economy has made jobs competitive. Our low unemployment rate indicates that workers have more choice about where to work. They aren’t choosing state government.

Of course, we could try to increase in-migration, but that’s not on the GOP’s radar. They’re trying to keep people out of the state, not encourage them to move here. The GOP base is far more concerned with closing our Southern border than with keeping buses rolling and prisons safe. Unfortunately, the GOP leadership panders to them instead of leading the state and nation.

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Much of what Republicans did to our state when they took control had long-term consequences as they slashed programs that were working and shifted the tax burden from the wealthy and corporations to the middle class. We’re now paying for their actions. They like to take credit for North Carolina’s rapid growth, but the state and it’s economy grew faster in the first decade of this century when Democrats were in control than it did during the second decade when Republicans ruled.

The GOP’s best talking point is about the budget surplus and the fat rainy day fund. But that money comes at a price and the bill has come due. We can’t staff our services. Our public schools are struggling. Our kids are in the midst of a public health crisis and we don’t have the counselors and support staff to deal with it.

For decades, North Carolina was known as a good government state. We kept our taxes low, but relatively progressive. We had good roads, great universities, and better than average public schools. And we took care of our employees. Today, teachers are leaving the profession because of difficult working conditions and low pay. Our universities have been overly politicized and seen their budgets slashed. The department of transportation has vacancies 32% above 2019 rate and they’re losing employees to retailers and the service industry.

Republicans came into office demonizing state employees and teachers. They slashed benefits and froze pay. They created an inhospitable working environment that has repercussions today. Instead of providing stability that includes job security and long-term benefits, they’ve left people wary of years without pay raises and uncertain benefit packages. Now, they can’t find the people fill the positions needed to staff a rapidly growing state. Republicans bear a significant responsibility for that problem.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant. Republished from PoliticsNC.com.