After roughly two hours of debate, Thursday evening the Republican-led Senate passed a $22.9 billion General Fund budget for the 2017-19 fiscal cycle by an initial 34-15 party-line vote, more than the 30 votes that would be needed to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Discussions of Senate Bill 257 fell along predictable patterns. Republicans touted the fiscal restraint, tax relief, and regulatory reforms that began in 2011 when the GOP took control of the General Assembly. They said a combination of lower tax rates and a higher standard deduction would result in 99 percent of North Carolina taxpayers receiving a tax cut or paying no income taxes at all.
Democrats claimed most of the tax relief would flow to wealthy individuals and business owners, and that the state instead should spend more on a variety of programs, including public education, incentives to corporations, and rural development.
The state constitution requires any bill involving revenues or spending to be approved by votes on separate days, so the Senate adjourned until just past midnight Friday for the final budget vote.
In a statement issued after the initial vote, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said,
It is telling that the only criticisms we’ve heard about this budget are it ‘doesn’t spend enough’ and ‘gives taxpayers back too much of their own money.’ But rather than indulge the old tax-and-spend impulses that dragged our state into a $2.5 billion budget deficit and one of the nation’s worst tax climates, we are spending prudently on core priorities, saving carefully to protect against the next recession and returning a portion of the tax surplus back to the middle-class families and job-creators who paid it.
Thursday, House leaders indicated that the House would spend the next two weeks hammering out its budget in committees. The goal is to bring the budget to the floor the week of May 29. House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, has suggested the House and Senate could wrap up budget negotiations by June 15. If so, the General Assembly session could end in early July.