Raleigh, N.C. — After another two hours of debate and a few more amendments, state House lawmakers gave final approval Friday morning to their $21.1 billion spending plan.
That's after a marathon debate Thursday night that ended with eight Democrats voting for the GOP-penned plan, 81-36.
"We had the largest number of votes for a budget since 2008, when a number of us on this side joined the Democrat side to vote for their budget," said House senior budget writer Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.
"This is a good budget. This is a manageable budget. This is a budget that we shows we have priorities on educating our citizens and on lifting our state up and moving forward," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett.
Democrats criticized the plan for relying too heavily on projected lottery money to pay for teacher raises. The budget doubles the lottery's advertising allotment. Republican leaders say that will result in $106 million in additional revenue.
"We are gambling on gambling," said Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake. "I got a few lottery tickets back at the house that didn’t pay off."
Dollar insisted leaders are "very confident" the lottery revenues will materialize.
"We put the figure in the budget, and the lottery has to turn that money over. This is not speculative," he said, adding that the state budget already relies on lottery revenues for teachers. "(About) $220 million of salaries of teachers are paid for, year after year after year, from the lottery."
Other Democrats argued the plan doesn't go far enough to repair cuts made in recent years.
Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, said Republicans could have done more if they had more revenue to work with.
"You all like to talk about living within our means," Insko said. "The problem is, you gave away our means. You cut taxes too much too fast, and to balance that out, what you did was cut into the very bones and meat of our society.”
"I’m thankful we’re stopping the hemorrhage, but we’re a long way from fixing the problem," said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood.
Republicans pointed out that Democrats, too, had made deep cuts in 2009 and 2010.
Still, Democrats praised the House budget writers for coming up with a better plan than the Senate proposal, and they urged GOP negotiators to fight for the House's provisions in conference committee.
"Get in there and soldier on," urged Rep. Winkie Wilkins, D-Person.
Republicans responded by asking Democrats to vote for their plan to present a united front.
"It would be much easier for us to do battle with the Senate if we had you with us," said Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake. "I would implore you to go to battle with us."
Negotiations with the Senate could begin as soon as this weekend. They're likely to be difficult – the two spending plans are miles apart.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said Thursday night that the House might consider restructuring the teacher pay raise to rely less directly on lottery revenue increases. But on Friday, Dollar said he wouldn't speculate about that possibility.