The N.C. House voted 80-31 to approve its budget proposal shortly after midnight Thursday.
The House had taken an initial 82-34 vote Thursday evening, and a few legislators didn’t stick around for the late vote, which is required to take place on a different day – prompting the midnight session.
The votes set up a negotiating process with the Senate, which already passed its own $22.9 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins in July. Starting next week, Republican leaders from both chambers will work out their differences in private, with the goal of passing a compromise budget by the end of June and sending it to Gov. Roy Cooper. The House and Senate have already agreed on how much to spend, which represents a 2.5 percent increase from the current fiscal year.
The budget passed with support from 13 Democrats, even as House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson spoke out against the bill. Supporters included Rep. Yvonne Holley of Raleigh, Rep. Becky Carney of Charlotte and Rep. Ken Goodman of Rockingham.
Only one Republican, Rep. Jeff Collins of Rocky Mount, voted against the budget on the first vote. On the final vote, Collins didn’t vote, but Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, cast the lone GOP “no” vote.
Democrats made the case that the budget prioritizes tax cuts over needed spending on education and other programs. They argued that Cooper’s budget proposal was a better approach.
“There are ways the House budget is better than the Senate budget, and there are some ways that it’s worse,” Jackson said. “Both miss out on opportunities to invest in jobs, people and education.”
Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, countered that Democrats were making the same “sky is falling” argument they’ve made since the GOP took control in 2011.
“We can always do better if we had more money, but we’re not going to tax the citizens of this state out of their income and out of their homes,” Speciale said. “That’s why we’re in charge now and you’re not.”
Under the House plan, state employees would receive a $1,000 salary increase in the fiscal year beginning in July, with another $1,000 raise coming the following year. State retirees would get a 1.6 percent cost-of-living increase that would apply for one year only.
The budget would provide the biggest raises to mid-career teachers, although teachers at all experience levels would get raises under the proposed salary chart. Starting pay would increase from $35,000 to $35,300, and teachers with more than 25 years of experience would get a 0.6 percent raise of $300. The average teacher raise is 3.3 percent.
The House proposal would not lower the personal income tax rate, as a tax cut proposed in the Senate budget would do. But it would cut taxes in several other ways. It would increase the standard deduction from $17,500 to $18,500 for a married couple filing jointly, with similar increases for other tax status categories. The standard deduction is the amount of income on which taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions will pay no income tax.
The House budget also would lower the franchise tax rate that businesses pay, as well as create new sales tax exemptions for certain types of businesses the state hopes to recruit.
Some of the cuts in the budget plan that has passed the Senate weren’t included in the House plan, including cuts to food stamps, the Governor’s School, the UNC School of Law and some education programs that the Senate cut out in a controversial 3 a.m. budget amendment.