Legislative Democrats said Gov. Pat McCrory’s plan to raise teacher pay doesn’t go far enough — and they compared North Carolina to its neighbors as their argument that teacher pay has reached a level of crisis.

“This is an emergency,” said Rep. Larry Hall, House Minority Leader, said at the pre-short session press conference Tuesday.

McCrory wants to raise the base salary of new teachers to $35,000 and give all teachers an average pay raise of 2 percent.

Hall and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said that was paltry, and said there needs to be a plan to raise teacher pay to the national average in four years.

North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay, with an average salary of $45,737.

North Carolina’s neighboring states pay their teachers more, the Democratic leaders pointed out:

  • Georgia: $52,880
  • Virginia: $48,670
  • South Carolina: $48,737
  • Tennessee: $47,563

Attorney General Roy Cooper endorsed the Democrats’ teach pay plan Tuesday.

“Education in North Carolina should be a priority not an afterthought. For too long, pay for teachers has languished and North Carolina now ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay,” Cooper said, in a statement. “Reports show far too many good teachers leaving their profession because they are unable to make it on low pay no matter how much they love their jobs and their students.”

Cooper has all but announced he is running for governor in 2016.

But there’s a big problem standing in the way — a $448-million problem. That’s the budget shortfall legislators are facing in the short session. Democrats blame cuts to the state income tax for the budget hole. Overruns in Medicaid are still not firmed up yet.

“The budget crisis was created by the governor and legislative leaders in the last session,” Sen. Blue said.

But when pressed on how they would pay for their teacher pay plan, Blue and Hall dodged, saying it would take “leadership to come together and fix the problem.”

McCrory said on Capital Tonight that he still wants the pay raises to go through this year, and get legislative approval for his teacher career steps plan.

Democratic leaders also called on a permanent solution to cleaning up coal ash ponds in the state. Rep. Hall said it didn’t matter on whose watch the coal ash became a problem — whether Republican or Democratic administrations — it’s time to address it.

– Ben McNeely