Raleigh, N.C. — Three Senate Democrats who initially voted against the $21.7 billion state budget proposal backed the plan Wednesday along with all of the chamber's Republicans.
That 37-13 vote confirmed the Senate's support for the bill, which now awaits two votes in the House scheduled for late Thursday and early Friday morning.
"I had reservations (Tuesday) primarily because I had not had an opportunity to read 429 pages of the budget," said Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, explaining why she voted against the bill Tuesday.
Smith-Ingram said it would have been "negligent" to vote in favor of a measure that she had not fully digested.
That complaint has been a refrain among Senate Democrats. The full text of the budget was not available until just before midnight on Monday. The Senate took its first vote less than 24 hours later. The two documents describing the state spending plan take up more than 630 pages.
As she had time to read, Smith-Ingram said she found things she liked. For example, funding for teaching assistants and driver's education, a new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the restoration of a medical expense deduction for state taxes. As well, the budget levies new sales taxes on services and distributes that money to rural counties. All eight of the counties Smith-Ingram represents will benefit from that additional revenue.
"How could I not support that?" she asked.
Smith-Ingram was joined by Sen. Ben Clark, D-Cumberland, and Sen. Jane Smith, D-Robeson, in switching votes.
The fiscal year began on July 1, and the budget is now nearly 80 days past that deadline. Republicans who lead the House and Senate say they needed to take the time to get things right.
After intense debate Tuesday, the measure passed with little comment Wednesday as it amassed support.
But critics say negotiations over the final bill were overly secretive and erred in favor of more tax cuts rather than boosting spending on key needs such as education.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, pointed to a provision that would limit state spending on light rail projects, which would stop a nascent Raleigh-to-Durham connector in its tracks. That provision, he said, had not been seen in the House's, the Senate's or the governor's versions of the budget that have now been combined into a single proposal.
"It's that kind of process that I have trouble with," McKissick said. "It's that kind of lack of access to information that I find troubling."
Should the bill pass the House, as expected, it would next go to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature or veto.