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NC House, Senate pass budget mostly along party lines

The North Carolina House gavels in to vote on a long-delayed $30 billion spending plan. The vote was 69-40 in the House with about five Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill, while the Senate voted along party lines later in a 28-19 vote.
Matt Ramey
/
For WUNC
The North Carolina House gavels in to vote on a long-delayed $30 billion spending plan. The vote was 69-40 in the House with about five Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill, while the Senate voted along party lines later in a 28-19 vote.

The North Carolina legislature has voted to pass a long-delayed $30 billion spending plan. The final vote was 70-40 in the House after midnight with about five Democrats joining Republicans in support of the bill, while the Senate voted along party lines Thursday in a 28-19 vote.

The budget includes raises of 4% this year for most state employees, with an additional 3% next year. Starting pay for teachers would increase by $2,000 to $39,000, and teacher pay overall would rise by an average of 7%. It would decrease the personal income tax rate to just under 4% by 2026, but only if revenue targets are met.

Republicans touted hundreds of millions allocated for mental healthcare, and grants of $2 billion for water and sewer infrastructure in rural communities.

Sen. Phil Berger gavels in the Senate to debate the state budget on Thurs., Sept. 21, 2023.
Matt Ramey
/
For WUNC
Sen. Phil Berger gavels in the Senate to debate the state budget on Thurs., Sept. 21, 2023.

“What is in this budget is huge investments in healthcare, in behavioral health, foster care programs, construction dollars, for hospitals and clinics throughout our state,” House Majority Leader John Bell said.

But most Democrats voted no. They say the budget doesn’t do enough to improve state employee and teacher pay that still lags inflation. They noted that the governor and other elected officials would get substantially larger raises.

“The fact is the people of our state are not waiting for a piece of paper or 1,411 pieces of paper,” said Rep. Brandon Lofton, D-Mecklenburg. “They’re waiting for help. They’re waiting for us to do our job. This budget fails them in critical ways.”

Democrats also voiced objections to a major expansion of private school vouchers that would make them available to everyone regardless of income level. And they challenged provisions in the budget that would make the legislative branch more powerful: more legislative appointments to the Judicial Standards Commission, more legislative control over oversight of the community college system and a public records change that could allow lawmakers to decide which documents should be available to the public.

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives said the overall effect is to make North Carolina “the most powerful legislature in the entire country.”

A final vote on Friday morning in the Senate will send the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper, who’s said he might veto. The House opted to do its final Friday vote at 12:29 a.m. Republicans likely have enough votes to override any veto.

House Speaker Tim Moore says that would delay the bill and Medicaid expansion for several weeks because an override would likely take place in October. "I'm hopeful the governor will sign it," he said. I mean, this activates the expansion, the health care access. There's a lot more reasons for him to sign it than to veto it."

Moore said the House doesn't plan to hold further votes until the week of Oct. 9.

Among some of the other notable provisions in the budget:

  • Millions of dollars for what are known as "crisis pregnancy centers," organizations that counsel women not to get an abortion
  • $700 million for highway maintenance projects
  • New “citizen review panels” to provide oversight to child protective services agencies, along with a new state office of child fatality prevention
  • Restrictions on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state workers
  • Funding to plan a new business school at N.C. State University
  • $1.2 million for child care grants
  • $20 million for research on PFAS contamination through the N.C. Policy Collaboratory
  • Free school lunches for children who qualify for reduced-price lunches

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.