North Carolina budget gets final lawmaker approval

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- After a nearly three-month standoff between House and Senate Republicans over policy and spending differences, the North Carolina General Assembly finally has a state budget to hand to Gov. Pat McCrory.

The legislature completed voting on the two-year spending plan to run state government early Friday just past midnight when the House agreed to the negotiated proposal for the second time.

The 81-33 vote was similar to the margin when the chamber gave initial approval late Thursday night to the plan that spends more than $21.7 billion this year alone. The Senate already formally signed off on the measure earlier in the week.

"Obviously we are very pleased that the budget passed on a bipartisan basis, overwhelming number with 81 votes here on the third reading, we think it is a good budget that takes care of NC needs and we are very proud that we finally got is passed here a little after midnight this evening," Speaker of the House Tim Moore said.

McCrory, also a Republican, said he was prepared to sign the budget bill into law before the third temporary government spending provision this summer - a symptom of the unusually lengthy negotiations - expired late Friday night.

RELATED: Gov. McCrory says he'll sign state budget compromise

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," Moore said. He 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.

"I think the people of North Carolina will be very happy with this budget, we have a overall tax decrease in this budget, at the same time we have a record number of savings we have put forward for the future should something happen with the economy," Republican Nelson Dollar said. "We have invested where the voters have told us to invest in and that is quality education this budget has well over $460 million in additional spending in education a good deal of that focused on K-12 education we have preserved our teaching assistants, that are so critical to students, driver education, just a number of very solid investments, that the people of NC had been asking for."

"I feel that there is no such thing as a perfect budget, but I feel like this budget needed an opportunity to get vetted out in the public and it did that, and I think there are some good things in the budget and there were some things that I didn't agree with the budget but all in all," Democrat Rodney Moore said. "I think the budget is a good starting point moving forward."

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