The Senate unveiled its proposed budget Thursday morning with the first floor vote on the schedule for next Monday night. The move comes as the House passed its own budget draft in a 68-36 vote during a third reading on Thursday morning.

At 46 pages, the Senate’s proposal is much shorter than the House’s 271-page budget. Senate leaders indicated the draft outlines essential funding priorities in an effort to ensure progress between the two chambers. 

“In the absence of an agreement with the House on changes to the budget, this is kind of the baseline things to maintain commitments from the previous budget, and others that we felt were essential moving forward,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Caldwell.

Under the revised Senate budget, HB 317, education funding would receive an additional $155 million. The Senate draft also fully funds opportunity scholarships with an additional $463 million, similar to the House’s $480 million proposal. The universal school choice program had exhausted funds due to overwhelming demand for education alternatives.

The Senate plan also provides a total of $136.5 million to extend the childcare stabilization grants. Using taxpayer money to subsidize childcare providers and thereby redistributing childcare expenses among North Carolinians, the proposal is almost identical to the House version. About $111 million would be pulled from the General Fund, and $25.5 million would come from federal block grant funding. 

When asked why childcare isn’t fully funded — the anticipated “funding cliff” was estimated at more than $300 million — Hise explained that while the federal government temporarily funded it, that subsidy doesn’t exist anymore. By covering some of the cost, the state is picking up brand-new spending, which Hise says is not a long-term solution. 

“I think you’ll find a consensus for a lot of people that this kind of temporary grant money for salary supplements is not a long-term solution,” Hise said. “It’s a band-aid on the process, and we will be back starting in January to begin to deal with what the actual needs are of childcare.”

Medicaid is funded by the Senate plan with an additional $359 million, also comparable to the House proposal. Other areas of focus include water and wastewater projects, affordable housing, and appropriations for broadband expansion. Though a significant amount of the Senate proposal aligns with what the House filed earlier this week, many smaller funding initiatives are left out under the Senate plan. The Senate’s bill does not increase teacher salaries or state employee salaries beyond those scheduled increases already contained in the biennial budget passed in the Fall of 2023. The House’s proposal added another 1% salary increase for all state employees.

“Both proposals copiously utilize the available budget surplus to fund politically relevant areas, such as school vouchers and child care subsidies,” said Joseph Harris, fiscal policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation. “However, the House shows less fiscal restraint by also prioritizing additional raises to teacher and state employee pay.”

Under the Senate budget, the unappropriated balance remaining would be $212.719 million, whereas the House would leave under $100 million.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations/Base Budget approved the draft on Thursday morning. Earlier this week, Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told the Carolina Journal that the House is not only overspending but also using funds from reserve accounts to fund non-essential projects, which he opposes. 

SEE ALSO: Millions earmarked for these 8 items in House budget proposal

The House passed its third and final reading on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to hold a full floor vote on Monday night for their proposal.

Gov. Roy Cooper criticized both chambers’ “terrible” budgets for directing funds to private school vouchers.