RALEIGH — The state budget took a giant step toward becoming law Thursday. After eight months of competing tax plans, the House and Senate have come together.
There are two clear sides to the budget debate. There are those who say it is no time to raise taxes with the economy on shaky ground after the terrorist attacks. Others say increasing taxes provides some insulation against an economic slump and money to keep education a top priority. The latter group won the debate.
"The whole purpose of this budget is to educate children and young people," Ruth Easterling, D-Mecklenburg, said.
The budget debate that has lasted months is winding down. Which taxes to raise has been the biggest stumbling block, especially in an uncertain economy.
The Republicans argued against a half-cent sales tax increase and higher taxes on the wealthy.
A group of eight Democrats joined with Republicans to derail the governor's plan for a 1-cent sales tax hike. All along, they have complained that tax writers were not willing to cut sacred cows.
"What we have tried our darndest to do is to show you where you could get money from if you had the chutzpah to do it," said Mickey Michaux, D-Durham County.
In the House, the budget vote was close; it passed 62-55. The vote in the Senate was 31-14, mostly along party lines.
The budget includes a pay raise for state workers and keeps open all the mental health facilities and schools for the deafs.
One break for those who do not like paying higher taxes -- there is a 3-day sales tax holiday in early August for back-to-school needs.
Another vote is required Friday before the budget can be sent to Governor Easley.