The North Carolina General Assembly approved a state budget for the next year on Friday morning after several days of heated debate over the controversial process Republicans used to force their changes through.
But although Democrats repeatedly criticized the spending plan and especially the process used to pass it without the opportunity for any changes or amendments, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper hasn't said what he will do with the budget. He has 10 days to sign it into law, veto it, or simply do nothing and allow it to become law.
Cooper vetoed last year's budget, saying it directed too much money to tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations, and didn't spend enough on teachers and state employees.
This year's budget, written by Republican leaders and passed mostly along party lines this week, keeps planned tax cuts and also contains pay raises for all state employees — similar to Cooper's budget proposal — ranging from teachers to prison workers to road crews.
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All state employees will get at least a 2 percent raise, and some will get more. Correctional officers in prisons will get about a 4 percent raise, the average teacher will get a 6.5 percent raise, principals will get a nearly 7 percent raise, and Highway Patrol troopers will get an 8 percent raise. Retired state employees will also get a 1 percent cost-of-living increase to their pensions, which in recent years have fallen far behind the pace of inflation.
Cooper previously released his own budget suggestions, most of which the legislature did not adopt. He had called for larger teacher pay raises of about 8 percent, instead of 6.5 percent, which he said is what's needed for North Carolina to reach the national average in a few years' time.
Cooper's spokesman, Ford Porter, said the governor would be "reviewing the budget in the coming days."
“We can do so much more to raise teacher pay, improve school safety and protect drinking water but legislative Republicans thought it was more important to protect their tax breaks for corporations and people making over $200,000 a year," Porter said in a statement after the final, 66-44 vote in the House of Representatives to approve the budget.
On Friday, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Kings Mountain, defended the process and said there's a lot in the budget that people of both parties should support.
"We've actually made a huge, consistent investment in education," he said. "A substantial raise for teachers, 6.5 percent. ... Roughly a $3,100 average raise for principals. Making schools safer. ... Our state employees are saying this is a great budget. It takes the people at the lowest pay tier and makes sure they get a substantial raise."
Moore also said raises for correctional officers and state troopers were a big priority of the legislature this year. Being a correctional officer, he said, has to be the hardest job in all of state government due to the low pay and unsafe conditions.
"In this budget we not only take care of raising the pay there, but also funding some safety measures that these officers need," Moore said.
Democratic Rep. Billy Richardson of Fayetteville spoke after Moore. He said Democrats "genuinely want to work with you" and were frustrated to have been shut out of the budget-writing process.
"It is so important that when we yield power, and our founding fathers taught us this, that we do so inclusively," he said in a speech addressed at Moore and the GOP majority. "... Because not everybody in this state agrees with my point of view or your point of view. We all have something to offer."
He said in next year's session, legislators should agree to "roll up our sleeves" and work together to focus on infrastructure, education and other big-picture issues, particularly in rural areas.
"We have had rapid growth in this state, but it's only occurred in five counties, and seven cities," Richardson said. "It is woeful out in the rural areas."