The House passed its $24.5 billion General Fund budget for 2019-20 by a 61-54 margin Thursday, May 2, after spending three hours wrestling with 34 amendments.
If House Bill 966, the 2019 Appropriations Act, passes a third reading Friday it will head to the Senate.
Democrats hoped they would have more success before the full House than they did in committees. They targeted the Opportunity Scholarship school voucher program, crisis pregnancy centers, Republican tax cuts, and GOP opposition to expanding Medicaid. None of the attempts prevailed.
Gov. Roy Cooper hasn’t said whether he would veto a budget unless it includes Medicaid expansion, but he’s made boosting coverage under the entitlement program a priority. Even if the Senate passed the House budget without changes, the narrow margin of victory by House Republicans makes a possible veto override problematic.
Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the budget, which includes teacher and state employee pay raises, had a thorough committee vetting process.
“There’s a lot in this budget that will move this state forward,” Lambeth said.
Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, a chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said House and Senate budget writers are working closely on tax policy.
“I truly believe that we are at 99.9 percent agreement with the finance package,” she said.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, opened debate by trying to delay a vote. He wanted to send the bill back to the Health Committee and add a provision expanding Medicaid. The move failed.
Rep. Rachel Hunt, D-Mecklenburg also lost when she proposed an amendment to strip money from crisis pregnancy centers and divert it to the Smart Start early education program.
Democrats, who often oppose school choice measures, introduced a series of unsuccessful amendments to kill a $1 million pre-K pilot program using virtual teaching in the home.
Republicans voted against reallocating the money until Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, invoked an emotional plea to redirect the money to the state Department of Public Instruction for Students in Crisis Grants.
Cunningham spoke of tearful students huddled Wednesday at a UNC Charlotte vigil for victims of Tuesday’s campus shooting that left two dead and four wounded. She said the money would be better spent helping students who suffer traumatic events. Her amendment passed 58-57.
Lawmakers maintained bipartisan support for giving Hollywood film companies tax incentives. They defeated an amendment from Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, to eliminate the $31 million Film and Entertainment Grant Fund, and shift the money to the State Water and Wastewater Reserve.
“This boils down to infrastructure versus incentives,” said Speciale, R-Craven. The water reserve was created to help economically struggling communities plan and design clean water infrastructure.
Speciale said lawmakers are obligated to help cities and counties, not private interests.
Rep. John Autry, D-Mecklenburg, and several Republicans defended the film industry handouts. The amendment lost, 16-98.