Raleigh, North Carolina –Despite objections from some Democrats, the State House on Wednesday night approved its $ 25.7 billion 72-41 spending proposal, garnering nine Democratic votes.
Budget writers entered the process with an unprecedented state surplus of more than $ 6.5 billion, plus billions more in federal COVID relief funds.
Republican leaders have touted the historic level of spending in the budget, including more than $ 1.6 billion in funding for water and sewer infrastructure, as well as tax cuts for individuals and citizens. companies totaling some $ 8.6 billion over the next five years.
âThis historic budget is transformative and fully funds the vision of a good North Carolina for all citizens,â said Representative Dean Arp, R-Union.
âAn incredible job here,â said Pat McElraft Rep. R-Carteret. “And that wasn’t all with federal funds either.”
Democrats, however, said the bill had the wrong priorities.
Earlier Wednesday, Minority Parliamentary Leader Robert Reives said it contained good provisions, but “was not at all what we need to be” on spending on education, clean energy and economic development.
âNow is not the time to find ways to help out-of-state businesses save money,â said Reives, D-Chatham. “This money needs to be invested in different communities here.”
Representative Gale Adcock, D-Wake, lambasted House Republicans for not only failing to expand Medicaid, but even for cutting Medicaid funding to find millions for pet projects “by increasing costs. -payments from Medicaid offices by 33%, and at the same time reducing reimbursements to providers who care for Medicaid patients. “
“We had to make some tough choices,” conceded health budget official, Rep. Larry Potts, R-Davidson.
Other Democrats noted that the House plan leaves $ 3.5 billion unspent in the bottom line, but does not meet the judge’s education spending requirements in the Leandro trial.
Representative Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, said the education budget only covered about 48% of that court’s order.
The Leandro decision, said von Haefen, “represents the bare minimum of what our state should be doing for our students across North Carolina in order to provide a solid basic education for our students. Not world-class education, just basic education. “
“We fail at our public schools, not the other way around,” agreed Representative Cynthia Ball, D-Wake. “And this budget illustrates our chronic underfunding of all aspects of education.”
Republicans said education funding and teacher pay were significantly increased as part of their plan, but said it was also important to build up the state savings account.
“Fiscal discipline and accountability secures our future,” said Donnie Lambeth, budget editor, R-Forsyth.
House Speaker Tim Moore walked off the platform to speak and defend the budget, saying the vote should be “120 to zero” and berating Democrats for complaining about insufficient funding for education.
âI don’t know when it’s enough, then,â Moore told R-Cleveland. “It’s the most money we’ve ever spent.”
Rep. Amber Baker, D-Forsyth, countered that Democrats first saw the massive budget bill two days ago, and said it was offensive to be told ‘take this budget, be – happy â.
âSo if we choose not to vote on this today, maybe next time you include us in this process,â Baker said. “But we stick it down our throats just because you wrote it down and you tell me it’s okay, that’s not the way to do it.”
“When is good enough not good enough?” Asked representative Brandon Lofton, D-Mecklenburg. “Of course, that’s when the stakes are too high.”
As the debate dragged on for hours, many Republicans simply left the chamber, while Democrats bemoaned the empty seats.
Teachers would receive an average increase of 5.5% over two years, although this varies widely depending on the teacher’s tenure. Non-certified school staff would also get a raise.
Government employees would benefit from a 5% increase over two years. Almost all workers would get a bonus from the federal ARP funds and unused funds intended for academic performance bonuses.
The salary increases proposed by the House are more generous than those in the Senate, where leaders only proposed 3% over two years overall.
However, the proposal does not include a permanent increase in the cost of living for retirement pensions, which Representative Raymond Smith called “a slap in the face to all of our government employees and retirees.” Instead, retirees would get a one-time bonus of 2% for this year and next.
Republican budget writers said they were waiting for more advice on the affordability of permanent increases from the board of directors that oversees the state pension fund.
The House’s tax reduction plan is more modest than that of the Senate. It would reduce the personal income tax rate by a quarter of one percent, increase the standard deduction to match the federal increase in that amount, and reduce corporate income tax by half a percent over the next several years. .
Reives and other Democrats have warned that cutting state revenues by $ 8.6 billion over the next five years could cause problems in meeting future state needs.
âWe have so much money right now, we kinda feel like ‘Oh, we’re great. âIt’s not true,â Reives said. “We have money left over because we have not reached a budget agreement [for the past three years]. We have US bailout money. But what happens when we go back to our normal money cycle? “
Republican leaders said the state’s tax revenues were stable enough to cover tax cuts without jeopardizing the state’s ability to meet its responsibilities.
Reives said it was “a step in the process”. Once the House finalizes its budget on Thursday, their plan will return to the Senate, and both Houses will have to work with Governor Roy Cooper to negotiate a compromise deal, something they have failed to do since 2017, the last time Republicans held veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
“Do we want to go two more years without a budget? Emotional rep Pat Hurley, R- Randolph.” It’s time for us to wake up. Life is too short. I lost six friends last month. “
âThere is no red line,â Reives said of the upcoming talks. “I believe everyone we talk to understands the meaning of the word ‘compromise’.”