The $23.9 billion state General Fund budget for 2018-19 is a step away from being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature.
The Senate gave 36-14 final approval to the spending plan early Thursday morning, May 31. Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, was the only member to vote across party lines. The House took up the measure shortly afterward and passed it 72-45 after more than 5 1/2 hours of partisan wrangling. A third vote is needed, but House rules prevent that from happening until Friday, when the House will meet at 9:00 a.m.
The budget cuts corporate and personal income taxes, increases savings, adds $700 million in education spending, and gives teachers and state employees pay raises. Spending would increase 3.85 percent, which is under the level of population growth and inflation Republicans have used as a benchmark cap.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, gave minority Democrats a wide berth to discuss wish lists ranging from gun control to Medicaid expansion, and to vent about the process used to put the budget together. And vent they did.
Majority Republican budget writers met behind closed doors to adjust the two-year spending plan. They used a parliamentary procedure to strip language out of a Senate insurance bill that was passed by the two chambers in different forms, and was subject to a conference committee negotiation. They replaced the insurance language with the budget document, and House rules disallowed any amendments to change the conference report.
Shortly after the House meeting started Democrats attempted to block consideration of the budget bill. That motion failed.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, then made a motion to withdraw the conference report, and return it to the conference committee. He wanted House members to instruct the conferees to freeze scheduled reductions to corporate and some personal income taxes, and use those revenues to increase teacher pay beyond the 6.5 percent in the budget.
Jackson said the way Republicans put the budget together denied his constituents a voice in the process.
“Call us crazy, but we think they should have a say-so,” Jackson said of 4 million North Carolina residents represented by Democrats.
Some Democrats assailed the process by comparing it to authoritarian rule in Communist China and Venezuela.
Republicans were having none of the posturing. Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover, singled out Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, who’s served in the General Assembly for 43 years, for likening the budget process to rape. Grange said Michaux’s analogy insulted sexual abuse victims.
Michaux, who’s retiring at the end of the session, spoke for the motion to withdraw the bill and against the budget. But he never apologized for the rape analogy or a comparison he made between the Republicans’ tactics and the Communist government in North Korea.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the senior House budget writer, said asking lawmakers to debate and vote on a conference report is nothing new. He said more than 90 percent of the budget was already set in stone following extensive debate and changes last year during the long session of the two-year budget cycle.
He said Republicans were not willing to go back and add hundreds of millions of dollars to Democrats’ tax-and-spend desires. He implored them to “Lay aside any procedural grievances of the moment. Vote for shared values.”
Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, said he wasn’t thrilled with the budget process. But he said spoke with chairmen of appropriations committees and subcommittees about items he thought should be in the budget just like he has any other year, and that same access was available to Democrats.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, criticized Democrats for grandstanding like “tax-exempt leftist groups try to do in Raleigh.”
He said some Democrats who complained about the budget process could have filed bills to pursue their priorities, but didn’t. While Democrats championed elements of Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget, Lewis reminded them that Dollar had to introduce the governor’s budget into legislation because no Democrat was willing to do so.
“Let this serve as notice. If you’re going to complain make sure you have taken advantage of the process that’s been afforded to you,” Lewis said. “Otherwise you’re a hypocrite.”
Democrats complained mostly about classroom spending, and said budgeted teacher pay raises were insufficient.
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said education accounts for 58 percent of the budget, and Republicans raised education spending $163 million above the increase already built into the budget last year. He said the last budget Democrats passed when they were the majority party cut $1 billion from education.
Each chamber saw one member cross party lines to vote. All 44 Democrats and retiring Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, opposed the budget. On the Senate side, only Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, joined Republicans to support the measure.