Durham chamber would support higher taxes for teacher salaries

Jun. 12, 2014 @ 07:24 PM

The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce wants public school teachers to see significant pay increases.

So much so, the organization is calling on the General Assembly to consider all means of funding an increase: including a tax hike.

“The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce recognizes the essential role of public education in creating a strong and diverse workforce that will encourage and fuel economic development,” chamber officials said in a statement released this week. “Attracting and retaining the best teachers is the key to improving public education, and North Carolina must be prepared to pay teachers competitive and fair salaries to accomplish those goals.”

Legislators should think about all their options, Durham chamber officials said, including “reallocating resources from within the state budget, delaying or reconsidering future tax cuts, and increasing taxes.”

John White, the Durham chamber’s vice president of public policy, said Thursday that the organization wanted to let the community know “we support paying teachers a higher wage and that all options should be on the table.”

Casey Steinbacher, president and CEO of the chamber, described teacher salaries as a vital part of the region’s economic development.

“It’s about workforce and talent,” she said. “We sit across the table every day from companies looking to locate here or expand here, and the number one reason is the extraordinary talent pool here. Education is an important part of that. We can’t afford to lose any ground in that area.”

So far, it seems the Durham chamber stands alone in broaching the idea of higher taxes to fund salary increases.

State Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham) agreed with the chamber on the need to pay teachers more, but stopped short of backing a tax increase.

“I agree with the Chamber that increasing teacher pay to the national average in a sustainable, long-term manner should be a top priority for the state budget,” Woodard said. “The governor and legislative leaders have chosen to emphasize other priorities ahead of the professionals who teach our children. Delaying or eliminating various tax giveaways would be one way to reset these priorities.”

Meredith Archie, director of communications for the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement Thursday on behalf of the state organization.

It calls on state leaders to support teachers, but doesn’t mention taxes at all.

“The business community recognizes the integral role teachers have in preparing our students for the jobs of tomorrow and we can’t afford to lose them to other states; therefore, teaching must be an attractive career path in North Carolina,” the statement reads. “We remain supportive of legislative leadership and Gov. McCrory as they work to support public education in our state.”

When asked specifically about a tax increase, Archie said that the state chamber wouldn’t take a stand on it “because we are not aware of any proposals to increase revenue.”

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