NC House gives state budget final approval, despite lingering concerns

06/13/2014 10:52 AM

08/05/2014 6:51 PM

House lawmakers gave final approval to a $21.1 billion state budget Friday as Republicans repelled attempts by Democrats to mute the transfer of the State Bureau of Investigation and add more money to teacher pay raises.

The seven-hour discussion on the legislation from a day earlier did little to satiate lawmakers appetite for more debate, as it continued for another two hours and became tense at times.

A handful of Democrats sided with Republicans on the final vote to approve it 77-35, prompting Republicans to call it a bipartisan measure. But deep disagreements persisted.

Democrat Rep. Mickey Michaux offered a substantial amendment to add $102 million to the total allocated for teacher pay raises, a move that would have boosted the average hike to 7.4 percent from the current 5 percent in the GOP-drafted bill.

The Durham lawmaker redirected money from reserve accounts, unemployment insurance and a job incentive program toward the pay hikes. He said it represented a more permanent salary increase than relying on additional lottery revenues, as the GOP budget proposes.

Michaux said he felt prodded by Republican budget writers, who complained Thursday that Democrats were sitting on the sidelines while criticizing the spending plan. But Republicans used a procedural move to block the amendment from a vote.

Democratic leader Larry Hall also sought to limit the transfer of the SBI to the Department of Public Safety to keep the public corruption section within the Attorney General’s office, where the entire agency resides now.

It represented the third time Democrats tried to stop the shift and failed like the other two. But it sparked a debate about the politicization of the office and Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, whose office disclosed an investigation earlier this week into gambling industry campaign contributions to top Republicans.

But the teacher pay issue again dominated the discussion. The House taps $106 million in extra lottery money by doubling the advertising spending to draw more players. But lottery officials have expressed concerns that other restrictions on the ad content may make that number difficult to meet.

Rep. Alma Adams, a Greensboro Democrat, expressed concern that using lottery money would make the pay raises not sustainable.

“We’ve got to honor the promises we make to our teachers and state employees,” she said.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and lead budget writer, defended the entirety of the plan, particularly criticism about the use of lottery money for teacher salaries.

He said the state already uses $220 million from the ticket sales to pay teachers and fund millions more in education priorities.

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