The N.C. Senate passed a $24 billion General Fund spending plan without debate. The House took nearly an hour Thursday, June 27, before following suit and approving the 2019-21 compromise proposal, House Bill 966.
The vote was 33-15 in the Senate; 64-49 in the House.
The plan now lands with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who promised a veto if the budget failed to include Medicaid expansion. It doesn’t.
Cooper has made clear Medicaid expansion is a priority, but Republican lawmakers have long voiced opposition to expanding the federal health care program. Instead, the budget contains language for the governor to call a special legislative session to tackle health care access.
“For the life of me, I cannot understand why we are asking for a special session to expand Medicaid,” Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, said. “Access to health-care cannot wait for the 500,000 people who need it.”
Hawkins said states that have expanded Medicaid don’t regret it. But Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, said Medicaid expansion wasn’t included in the budget because it would bankrupt the state.
The budget says teachers will get an average 3.9% pay raise over the biennium, with raises and bonuses weighted toward veteran instructors. Teachers with zero to 15 years of experience will get raises in line with the salary schedule.
Those with 16 to 20 years of experience will get $500 raises in both years, and teachers with 21 to 24 years of experience will get $1,500 in the first year, and $500 in the second year. Teachers with more than 25 years of experience will get $600 in the first year and $500 in the second year, plus a $500 bonus in October of both years.
State employees will see a 2.5% salary increase each year in the biennium, and state retirees will get 0.5% bonuses for their pensions.
Instead of a statewide school construction bond, as the governor and the House wanted, the compromise budget calls for $4.4 billion over 10 years for K-12 construction and repairs in a pay-as-you-go plan, similar to one originally proposed by the Senate.
The budget appropriates $710 million to the state rainy-day fund, raising it to $1.96 billion by 2021. Some of those reserves were used to pay for disaster relief after the most recent hurricanes.
Democratic lawmakers raised concerns that the budget shortchanges education and health care in exchange for tax cuts for businesses. They also criticized plans to move the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters from Raleigh to Granville County.
“I look for a good novel a lot of the times, but this budget was not it,” Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley, D-Wake, said. “It was a mediocre novel with little to no socially redeemable value. The underlying theme was robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Senior House Appropriation Committee co-chair Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said the plan does a good job serving the people of North Carolina.
“I have yet to see a perfect budget,” Lambeth said. “This budget is a good balance that makes a commitment to savings and infrastructure, to return some of the taxes paid by our citizens to them, and it appropriates funds to the highest priorities.”
After the House vote, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said education communities will see historic investments in new buildings, classroom safety, school supplies, and pay raises.
“Education is always the biggest focus of our spending plans, and this year is no different,” Moore said in a statement. “You can support this state budget and be proud of promises kept to the people of North Carolina.”