Raleigh, N.C. — With a unanimous vote, state House lawmakers sent their latest spending plan – and a very strong message – to the Senate on Thursday.
Senate Bill 3, unveiled Wednesday, is a joint proposal from House leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory that addresses teacher and state employee raises, teacher career development, in-state tuition for veterans and their families and coal ash regulators.
The move comes as House and Senate leaders are caught in a stalemate over competing versions of a full budget bill.
The new $21.3 billion plan would leave in place most of the two-year budget that lawmakers passed last year. Cuts scheduled to take place in 2014-15 would be implemented, as would new cuts already agreed upon by House and Senate leaders.
Other expansion items would remain on the table, either to be worked out in negotiations on the original budget, Senate Bill 744, or left undone.
"There’s certainly plenty that many would wish, but this is what is necessary," said House senior budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, calling the measure "a fulfillment of our commitment to education in this state at all levels."
House Minority Leader Larry Hall announced that Democrats would support the bill but not without a few potshots at the leadership.
Hall, D-Durham, praised Republican budget writers for abandoning a plan to count on increased lottery revenue to pay for teacher raises, but he argued the new plan is still fundamentally unbalanced because it depends on optimistic predictions of Medicaid spending.
"We had our proposed budget here on this floor before. Some people drank the Kool-Aid and voted for it, knowing that the [lottery] information in it wasn’t correct," he said. "When was the last time that Medicaid came in on the low end? Why is there such a big difference between the state budget office and what our staff says the number should be? Why were we kept in the dark until the last minute about these differences?"
"I’m going to support this Band-Aid, but it is a Band-Aid," Hall said. "My fear is when it has to be ripped off and people don’t want to take responsibility for it."
House Speaker Thom Tillis made the unusual move of handing over the gavel and leaving the dais to debate the bill on the floor.
"Let's dispense with the rhetoric," Tillis urged the House. "We’re just here to fulfill a promise."
He disputed Hall's appraisal of the spending plan.
"It’s not temporary. It’s fiscally sound, and it’s sustainable. It’s taking the politics out of this piece of the budget," he said. "We could go home today, and we’ve got a budget that the governor will be responsible for managing."
The 117-0 vote sends a strong, unified message to Senate budget writers – a message that won't likely be well-received.
Senate leaders of both parties on Wednesday derided the spending bill as a "gimmick." The chamber adjourned for the weekend before the measure could be delivered from the House.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger issued a statement on the vote Thursday afternoon. "The Senate stands ready to negotiate a fair compromise, but we want to give teachers more than a five percent raise and cannot accept unrealistic Medicaid estimates that create an unbalanced, unsustainable budget.”