RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As state government grapples with a growing number of job vacancies, some state employees are calling for 20 percent raises over the next two years.

Following a vote on the budget in the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives earlier this month, Republicans in the Senate are in the process of crafting their own spending plan.

The job vacancy rate in state government jumped during the pandemic and has climbed to 23.4 percent as of March. In state-run healthcare facilities, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Kody Kinsley has told state lawmakers the vacancy rates are even higher, with nearly half of registered nurse and clinical social worker positions vacant.

Dr. Rakesh Patel works at Central Regional Hospital, which is one of three state-run psychiatric facilities. He said some units at the hospital have closed, and the decrease in staffing has created safety issues for employees.

“I think that this is an existential crisis. I think that if the state is not serious about the vacancy issues, the staffing issues, the safety issues at our facilities, I can see a scenario where we will quickly lose facilities,” said Dr. Patel. “I think that if they don’t sense the urgency, that the residents of North Carolina will pay the price. There won’t be a hospital to take their loved ones to when they need it.”

Patel is president of the Butner chapter of UE Local 150, which is also calling for a $20 per hour minimum wage for state jobs, a task force on safe staffing and to repeal the ban on collective bargaining, among other changes.

The budget Republicans in the House crafted and that passed earlier this month would give state workers an average raise of 4.25 percent next year and 3.25 percent the year after that. Some of the harder-to-fill positions, such as school bus drivers and state troopers, would be eligible for larger raises than that.

“Just like in the private sector, you have the same thing in government, you have certain positions where there are acute needs,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).

Dr. Patel and other state workers questioned why the proposed raises are below the rate of inflation when the state is projected to take in about $3 billion more than expected this year.

“Much has been made, positively of course, about the surplus. Remember, surplus is one-time money. You can’t budget salaries and long-term recurring obligations over a one-time infusion of money. We have to balance all that together,” said Moore.

In his budget proposal, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) called for state workers to receive 8 percent raises on average over two years and bonuses paid in installments to try to address issues with retention. State officials say the turnover rate among employees in their first year on the job is 37 percent.

“Everything is sky high. Cost of living has gone up. We need a cost-of-living raise,” said Patrice Jacobs, who works as a cook at the Longleaf Neuro-Medical Center in Wilson.

Republicans in the Senate have not indicated how much they’ll propose to increase pay for state workers, but leaders in the chamber have released a plan that calls for reducing the personal income tax rate incrementally from the current 4.75 percent down to 2.49 percent in 2027. Republicans say they anticipate passing a compromise budget plan out of the legislature before July 1, which is when the new fiscal year begins.