House budget passes first test
Posted June 4, 2008
RALEIGH, N.C. — By a wide margin, the North Carolina House has tentatively approved its version of the state budget.
House members voted 102-12 on Wednesday in favor of the $21 billion spending plan. It was one of the largest margins supporting the budget in years, as a majority of Republicans joined with the chamber's Democrats to back a plan that contains no new taxes and would increase overall spending by the smallest percentage in five years.
The second of two required votes to approve the budget is expected Thursday.
The budget calls for about $180 million less in spending that Gov. Mike Easley suggested in his budget proposal.
House Democratic leaders said their plan substantially raised salaries for both public school teachers and state employees even as legislators in surrounding states this year offered meager increases or none at all during trying fiscal times.
"We just did not have the funds with which to do (things), and we could not do it without raising taxes to a great extent," Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, who is the senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said as the debate began. "Our conservative budgeting has worked well."
Although Republicans have complained that Democrats have drawn up budgets the past two years that grew by more than 9 percent annually, some GOP House members were ready to vote for the plan, which grows by only 3.2 percent from the previous year - the lowest level since the 2003-04 budget.
"There are good things in the budget that can be supported by both sides," said House Minority Whip Bill McGee, R-Forsyth, adding that he would vote for the budget. "The overall (growth) rate this year is acceptable. It's less than the cost of living."
The person most unhappy with the spending plan may have been Easley, who said Tuesday that House Democrats were "stiffing the teachers" by failing to support his proposal to raise average teacher salaries by nearly 7 percent.