Gov. Pat McCrory signs state budget

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Gov. Pat McCrory signed the state budget Friday (Handout)

A North Carolina state budget that was supposed to reach Gov. Pat McCrory by July 1 is finally law.

McCrory's office confirmed he signed the 429-page budget measure Friday morning hours after the General Assembly gave it final legislative approval with a post-midnight 81-33 vote in the House. The Senate voted for the two-year spending bill earlier in the week.

House and Senate Republicans got mired in negotiations that lasted all summer, with some House leaders calling it the widest gulf they had ever seen in competing budget plans.

McCrory, also a Republican, signed the budget bill into law before the third temporary government spending provision this summer, which expires late Friday night.

"The budget submitted to me by the General Assembly includes many of the goals and ideas we put forward to provide the tools North Carolina needs to continue what we have accomplished during the past three years," he said in a statement. "Now we can work together to implement a common-sense vision for our great state that includes job creation, education, healthcare and transportation."

Eleven House Democrats ultimately joined all of the chamber's Republicans voting to support the budget early Friday. That compares to the more than 30 Democrats voting for the House's original budget bill in May, which would have spent $421 million more than what the Senate and House ultimately agreed upon and offered salary increases to most all state employees and teachers.

The final negotiated bill only gave $750 bonuses to workers and scattered permanent salary increases around state government and schools.

"This is still a very strong bipartisan vote on a budget that really does fund North Carolina's priorities," House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said after the post-midnight vote. Moore also said the lower overall spending number and tax changes probably caused some Republicans who voted no in May to switch to yes.

McCrory had complained last weekend about portions of the tax package that expanded items subject to sales taxes to cover more services and earmarked more of the proceeds to about 80 more small and rural counties.

But he decided there were too many things he sought in the budget that survived negotiations - among them two new Cabinet-level departments and the revival of the historic preservation tax credit - to consider a veto. A veto would have led to a showdown with the legislature as the stopgap spending measure expired.

"There's no way that I'm going to as governor shut down government or our schools because of some disagreements within a $21 billion budget, especially when we got 90 percent of what we asked for," McCrory said in an interview.

House Republicans trumpeted the final budget for increasing spending for the public schools by more than $410 million over last year while retaining funds to preserve teacher assistant positions and driver's education. Senators had wanted to scale back assistant funds and eliminate driver's ed money. Early-career teachers, who had a $30,800 minimum salaries just two years ago, now will get at least $35,000.

House Democrats complained Republican counterparts who negotiated with the Senate forgot the middle class, citing income tax rate cuts that will benefit the highest wage earners the most, the expanded sales tax and higher Division of Motor Vehicles fees. The state had extra revenues for the coming year to work with through over-collections to boost education, Democrats said.

"I know we could have done better. You know we should have done better," said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham. "I'm sure you're going to hear from North Carolinians who can't believe we started off with a $445 million surplus and ended up where we are tonight."

The budget set aside $600 million this year for emergency reserves and building repairs and $225 million over two years to prepare for a Medicaid overhaul.

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