RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Negotiations between Republican legislative budget-writers will now begin in earnest after the Senate completed voting Friday for its version of a two-year spending plan for North Carolina government.
The chamber voted 30-16 for the legislation, which would spend $23.9 billion in the next fiscal year starting July 1 — just like a version written by House Republicans and approved four weeks ago. But the two chambers must settle dozens of details on where to spend and how, such as teachers and state employee raises, construction projects and savings reserves.
The two chambers will now fashion a consensus plan to present to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. What role Cooper will have in the ultimate outcome is uncertain. He's now equipped with a more potent veto stamp given his party's recent legislative gains.
The governor already has criticized both plans, particularly for another round of corporate tax cuts when he says education needs remain great. Neither proposal would expand Medicaid under the 2010 federal health overhaul law.
Still, three Democrats joined all the GOP senators present in voting for the proposal Friday after less than an hour of debate. Senators held four hours of debate Thursday before giving preliminary approval.
The Senate did agree Friday to a Republican amendment restoring three legal support positions assigned to new Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley that Senate budget-writers planned to abolish. The state's judicial branch, which Beasley leads, said the move would have cut in half Beasley's six-person staff. She's a Democrat and the first African American woman at the post.
That raised suspicions of Democrats that eliminating the positions was politically motivated. Cooper appointed Beasley as chief justice and not the most veteran justice on the court, who is a Republican. A Democratic amendment offered on Thursday to restore the positions had been blocked.
Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican who offered Friday's successful amendment, said budget-writers had been told recently the positions were vacant, so $267,000 associated with them could be used elsewhere. But the court system has now told Republicans they are filled.
"This absolutely had nothing to do with party or anything else," Britt said before his amendment received unanimous support.
Some bad feelings from Thursday's debate extended into Friday.
Democratic Sen. Don Davis of Greene County kept blasting a budget provision that would essentially reduce Medicaid payments by $35 million to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, which is in a governance fight with the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. He also jumped on the word that Republicans are considering whether it makes sense to build a new hospital to serve as East Carolina University's teaching hospital, replacing Vidant.
"I said yesterday that this was petty politics," Davis told colleagues Friday, adding, "I believe that this is actually downright evil." Senate Republicans told Davis in debate that they are involved in making peace with Vidant.
On Thursday, Berger cut off Sen. Terry Van Duyn's microphone. Republicans said the Democrat from Buncombe County was cut off because Berger hadn't formally recognized her to speak, which Senate rules require, but she continued to interrupt.
Van Duyn, who is running for lieutenant governor, told supporters in a fundraising email it happened because GOP members didn't want to debate her amendment to expand Medicaid, which ultimately was ruled out of order.