Gov. Pat McCrory said Thursday morning he plans to sign the $21.74 billion state budget compromise expected to reach his desk early Friday. The first-term governor said the General Assembly – for the third straight year – approved about 90 percent of the administration's priorities.
He cited full funding for teacher assistants, increased transportation dollars, additional pay for prison guards, the reinstatement of an historic preservation tax credit and other budget provisions.
"We've had to fight for a lot of these things. ...It would be irresponsible of me to even consider shutting down government or closing schools because of 10 percent of disagreement between the legislative branch and the executive branch," McCrory said in an interview with the Insider at the Executive Mansion.
He referred to the Friday deadline for the latest temporary budget that provides money to keep state government running in the absence of a state budget. The current fiscal year began July 1, and the General Assembly has passed three separate resolutions to keep state dollars flowing to programs since then.
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The 120-member House is scheduled to take its two required votes on the budget Thursday night and just after midnight Friday. The votes must come on separate days. With a group of 21 of the most conservative House Republicans announcing their support for the plan this week, it's passage is almost assured in that chamber.
The Senate gave final approval to the budget Wednesday, by a 37-13 vote. Three rural Democrats – Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram of Northampton County, Sen. Ben Clark of Raeford and Sen. Jane Smith of Lumberton – joined all Republican senators in voting for the spending plan.
Republican Sen. Harry Brown, one of the top budget writers in the Senate, welcomed McCrory’s announcement.
"I'm glad to hear the governor decided to sign the budget,” said Brown, the Senate majority leader from Jacksonville. “We think it's a great budget. It does a lot for education, the transportation system, rural North Carolina. We think it's a good budget and I'm glad to hear he's going to sign it."
McCrory said earlier this session that he would have vetoed legislation that included an aggressive proposal by top senators to redirect sales tax revenues from wealthier, urban counties to poorer, rural ones. He said he still disagreed with a compromise on that issue included in the final budget but that it's a "vast improvement" from the earlier sales tax plan. "They came back with an innovative approach to solve that problem. I still disagreed with that approach, but it's a vast improvement over what we had," McCrory said. "This is one area that I'm compromising on."
The budget deal would add sales taxes on repair, maintenance and installation services – including vehicles, appliances and other personal property. McCrory said he opposes the new taxes. About $84.8 million in new revenue from the tax would be divided among 79 suburban and rural counties for schools, community colleges and economic development projects, a significantly scaled-back version of the earlier plan.
McCrory declined to give the legislature a letter grade for the 2015 legislative session. He did take umbrage with the legislative process employed by his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly, particularly the passage of a budget more than two and a half months into the fiscal year.
"I think we need to make decisions long before the school year starts," McCrory said. He said the legislature, which has been in session since January, should respect the fact that it's supposed to serve part-time.
During the interview, McCrory also responded to several public criticisms of his leadership style by legislative Republicans during this session. Among other criticisms, one lawmaker called him "tone deaf," another said there's a lack of relationships between McCrory and legislators and a third said the governor doesn't "play much of a role in anything." The governor criticized the media for focusing on several comments "out of 200 over a nine-month period."
He said he has held many meetings with legislators on many aspects of the budget and other legislation. "We've been very actively involved.
We haven't brought the cameras in," he said. "I was kind of amazed at the amount of media attention on four quotes and I don't think there was enough media scrutiny over putting those four quotes out of how many legislators I'm working with in proper perspective in all due respect to the media."
Asked how he believed this session will position him for a re-election bid in 2016, he said his goal was to "prepare this state for the next generation." "My focus is not yet on the next election," he said.
"I'll let the people decide that."
N&O staff writer Craig Jarvis and Ben Brown of the Insider contributed.