RALEIGH, N.C. (AP/WNCT) — The North Carolina House on Thursday approved a two-year budget with enough support to thwart a potential veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
The budget process is far from over, as the Republican-controlled House and Senate still need to work out many differences between their two plans, particularly about the size of tax cuts and state worker pay raises. They’ll also need to negotiate with Cooper.
Democratic lawmakers are also seeking changes to a budget they argue will benefit wealthy people and corporations, stifle the governor’s ability to respond to emergencies and hamstring K-12 educators.
During a debate that lasted about 2 and 1/2 hours, senior budget writer Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican, called on Democrats to join Republicans in advancing the measure. He argued that their support would give the chamber better bargaining power.
“We need to give the speaker as many yes votes as we can to help in our negotiations. That’s the bottom line,” Lambeth said. “We can deal with what the next cycle is, but if we don’t give him the tools he needs, you’re gonna see more senate stuff in here than you would like, than I would like. We need to fight for the House budget. It’s not perfect, but it’s a really good budget.”
The budget proposal calls for $25.7 billion in spending in the year that began July 1 and grows by $940 million in the following year. Expanding broadband access to rural North Carolina communities, fixing aging water and sewer systems, erecting and repairing college, K-12 and government buildings are among Republicans’ top priorities in the budget.
District 12 NC Rep. Chris Humphrey was among those locally who voted in favor of the budget.
“We have 10.5 million people in this state and this budget does something for just about everybody,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey said some of the highlights of the budget locally include pay raises, help for community colleges and more.
“Pay raises for most state employees, bonuses for retirees, education funding is increased, teachers will get a raise,” Humphrey said. “Community college and UNC systems will get a raise. Lowest paid state employees, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, we’ll get them up to $15 an hour.”
Humphrey said there will also be specific funding for organizations here in Eastern North Carolina, including East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine.
“Biggest investment for ENC is the ECU Brody School of Medicine, $215 million,” Humphrey said. “ECU Brody is one of the factors I believed we picked up bipartisan support.”
Some other projects Humphrey mentioned here include $25 million for a Lenoir Community College hanger, $5 million for Uptown Greenville and recurring money for public schools.
“$500,000 recurring money that will go to each and every county for repairs and renovations of public schools. That is big for rural counties,” Humphrey said.
With the money to our area also brings more opportunity.
“It’s going to create opportunities for people, jobs for people, good-paying jobs that will bring people to our area,” Humphrey said.
Nine House Democrats joined Republicans to approve the measure by a 72-41 vote. The 72 votes gives Republicans the amount needed to override a possible veto. In June, four Democratic senators voted in favor of their chamber’s budget proposal, giving Republicans in the chamber a veto-proof majority as well.
House Democrats on Thursday were unsuccessful in passing an amendment that sought to strike down provisions of the budget they viewed as problematic because they would create policies that would curb powers afforded to the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general.
Rep. Charles Graham, a Robeson County Democrat, asked Republicans to go back to the drawing board. “I like bipartisanship. I’ve always supported bipartisanship. If we want a budget that demonstrates strong bipartisanship, I would strongly encourage you to reconsider your thinking on this and let’s go back to our committees and do some work.”
But Republicans said the tweaks Democrats put forward came with such little notice that it was impossible for them to evaluate the request.
“I can’t seriously consider voting for it because I don’t know what I’d be voting for or what I’d be deleting,” said Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan.
Only one Republican supported the amendment.