North Carolina Senate gives tentative approval to state budget

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The state Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a $21.1 billion spending plan.

Waving the final budget bill in disgust, Democratic senators said they were outraged and angered that Republican majority leaders who crafted the 260 page spending plan did not reveal its contents until Thursday morning -- just hours before the vote.

"This isn't a budget, it's an ultimatum," said Mecklenburg County Democrat Jeff Jackson. "This budget process is beneath you, it's beneath our state."

What's in the budget plan -- $21.3 billion and some major policy changes. The state's low-paid teachers get an average 7 percent pay raise, and there's an annual $1,000 raise for every state employee.

Twelve positions are cut at the Department of Health and Human Services along with millions from other programs, including fewer low-income parents being eligible for child care subsidies.

The plan also moves the State Bureau of Investigation from the Department of Justice into the Department of Public Safety.

However, it's those teacher pay raises -- which come with a cost of $282 million -- that sparked the hottest debate on the Senate floor. Republicans hailed the raises as historic.

"[The raise] is the largest dollar increase in state history allocated to teacher pay," claimed Republican budget negotiator Harry Brown, of Onslow County.

Democrats charge that the reward comes with punishment. They argue Republicans are eliminating so-called longevity pay bonuses for teachers with more than 10 years of experience.

"Once again, teachers are being asked to give up something they earned in order to get something they should get," argued Wake County Democrat Josh Stein.

Republicans insist they haven't eliminated longevity pay, but made the formula more efficient.

"The way longevity pay was paid, it was a lump sum at the end of the year," explained Boone Republican Dan Soucek. "And the way it's going to be paid now is it's going to be every single month."

Click here to see the full teacher pay schedule (.pdf)

Final passage should come after midnight in the Senate. Then it's the House's turn to vote Friday. The budget is expected to pass there as well with Republican support.

Gov. Pat McCrory is still a question mark however. The governor has still not made his intentions clear on whether he will sign the budget into law.

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