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@NCCapitol

After heated debate, Senate votes on party lines to approve budget proposal

Posted May 22, 2013

— Senators gave tentative approval Wednesday to a $20.6 billion budget that Republican leaders say will help right North Carolina fiscal ship even as Democrats slammed cuts to schools and economic development programs. 

The vote was along party lines, with 33 Republicans voting yes and 17 Democrats voting no.

Another Senate vote is scheduled for Thursday, at which point it will be the House's turn to craft a state spending plan.

"We have emphasized getting our balance sheet back in order," Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, told his colleagues, introducing the bill.

Many of the exchanges during Wednesday's more than three-hour debate were testy, with Republicans slapping aside amendments offered by Democrats.

The most fundamental difference between the two parties focused on $770 million GOP leaders set aside for a yet-to-be filed tax reform package. That's money Republican leaders say would not be raised by their proposed tax bill. Democrats said that reserve required unnecessary cuts to the budget. 

"Budget are about priorities, and this budget shines a bright light on your misguided priorities," said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake. "It makes no sense at all. You do not have to fire thousands of teacher assistants. You do not have to raise class size."

Stein offered an amendment that would have undone many of proposals to cut costs in state education programs. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, scoffed at his suggestion, saying Democratic policies had lead to high unemployment and dropout rates.

"It reminds me of Disneyland, where nothing's true and nothing is real," Rucho said of Stein's remarks. "We've put education as a priority. We've put funds there to make sure every child and every person in North Carolina is ready to take on the competitive jobs of the future."

Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, stepped in on behalf of Stein, asking Lt. Gov. Dan Forest whether Rucho was properly debating the amendment. Forest ruled Rucho was in order. 

"Pay attention Sen. Graham, you might learn something," Rucho retorted.

Budget redirects economic development funds

The Senate budget redirects funding away from existing public-private partnerships such as the Rural Center and Minority Economic Development Center, concentrating all economic development funding in the Commerce Department.

Republicans say this was done to save money on administration and ensure it was spent properly. 

But Democrats sought to redirect the money back to its existing programs. 

"Because you won't listen to us ... you are emasculating rural North Carolina," said Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash. 

Bryant was critical of what she and her fellow Democrats said the cuts were being made to pay for a "tax cut for the rich," inflaming Republican leaders. 

"I have looked through this budget, and I've heard your talking points about tax cuts for the rich," Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson said. "Can you point me to the line and the page number for the tax cut?"

Bryant struggled to answer the question, but she was referring to the $770 million set aside to pay for the Senate's anticipated tax reform package. That package is not part of the budget bill and has not been filed as a formal piece of legislation.

However, details of the plan have been rolled out by Senate leaders by way of a press release and website. Some of that material indicates lower income people might end up paying more in taxes while people in upper income brackets would pay fewer taxes overall. 

Stein pointed out that Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger outlined the plan in the online video. 

"Are we talking about videos on the computer or are we taling about the state budget?" Apodaca asked in mock frustration. "I can go on the computer and find videos of a lot of things."

Woodard takes an ethics dig

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, used an amendment to take a dig at the McCrory administration.

His proposed changes would have prohibited cabinet secretaries from having outside employment.  That was aimed squarely at Kiernan Shanahan, secretary of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. Until this week, Shanahan was still working for his law firm as well as serving in his government job.

A second part of Woodard's amendment would have prohibited the spouses of senior elected and appointed officials from registering as lobbyists. That was aimed at Yolanda Stith, a lobbyist married to Gov. Pat McCrory's Chief of Staff, Thomas Stith. 

"This is a good government amendment," Woodard said.

Apodaca responded with scorn.

"My, my, my. We can pick up the newspaper and make things personal," he said, calling Woodard's move "pretty low." Apodaca used a procedural motion to keep senators from voting directly on Woodard's amendment.

Republicans had their differences

All Senate Republicans weren't happy with every section of the budget.

Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, took issue with a provision of the budget that required tolls be added to all ferries, even those without tolls right now.

"The river ferries are virtually all community traffic," Cook said, saying those ferries carried mostly people going to and from work.

Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, tried to amend the budget to outlaw study of the Red Route, an option for extending Interstate 540 south through Garner that has been controversial. His amendment was voted down.

And Sen. Ralph Hise attempted to push through an amendment that would have changed the rates Medicaid pays to hospitals throughout the state. It sparked lengthy debate, with many Senators worried that their local hospitals would be hurt by the change. Hise ended up withdrawing his amendment. 

But in the end, Republicans rallied behind their leaders for a party-line vote.

"Predictions of dire consequences are not actually something we should be all that concerned about in terms of their accuracy," said Sen. Phil Berger, the president pro tempore of the Senate. He pointed out that two years ago, Democrats and their allies were predicting chaos in public education and elsewhere in government. "The last I looked, the schools were still open. We were still educating children. We were still taking care of things we need to address. But we were doing it in a way that respects the taxpayers of this state."

43 Comments

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  • Plenty Coups May 23, 4:18 p.m.

    I have looked through this budget, and I've heard your talking points about tax cuts for the rich," Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson said. "Can you point me to the line and the page number for the tax cut?"

    public-"Of course they can't! The facts don't matter."

    They did. Berger, the Senate president, put out an online video which Apodace dismissed. Still trying to understand the logic of him dismissing what one of the leaders of his party in the General Assembly said is their plan.

  • Plenty Coups May 23, 4:15 p.m.

    weternwake-"There is almost no correlation between board certification for the teacher and student performance. North Carolina is one of the few states that provide extra pay for board certification."

    Not true according to the studies I have seen. National Board teachers do have a significant impact in multiple studies:

    http://coefaculty.valdosta.edu/lschmert/gera/volume-7/comfort-LS.pdf

    http://www.mpa.unc.edu/sites/www.mpa.unc.edu/files/MPA%20Capstone%20paper%20Bundy%202006_0.pdf

  • 42 May 23, 1:30 p.m.

    "Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, tried to amend the budget to outlaw study of the Red Route, an option for extending Interstate 540 south through Garner that has been controversial. His amendment was voted down."

    Chad holds no sway with the GOP. Let's hope he loses next election.

  • whatelseisnew May 23, 1:16 p.m.

    My main problem with the budget is it is still too big. I like the reserve. But I would like to see a budget that guarantees they can start paying down debt as well as establishing as solid reserve. This budget does not do that unless they get lucky and receipts are higher than expected. We need to get all levels of Government OUT OF DEBT as soon as possible and ALL levels of Government must stop borrowing. I do not see enough of this in this budget, but it is better than what we have seen over the last few decades in this State. I pray the tax and spenders are kept out of office long enough to really fix some of the damage they have done to us.

  • jeff34 May 23, 10:39 a.m.

    Looking beyond whether this budget proposal is good or not, look at how the Senators voted. It was completely down party lines. These are suppose to be individuals representing the people of North Carolina, but all they seem to be representing is their party.

    Are you really telling me that not one Republican or Democrat thought differently about this proposal than their party? This is the problem with politics today. The representatives are serving their parties and not the people. The political party system in the United States is the primary issue with politics and should be dissolved. I also would suggest term limits for all representatives, so the career politicians are weeded out.

  • westernwake1 May 23, 9:38 a.m.

    ""I fail to see the logical perspective on the Masters degree vs. pay argument in the educational field." - AlbertEinstein

    There is a strong correlation in the classroom between the teacher having a Masters degree and student performance. This has been outlined in over 100 studies.

    There is almost no correlation between board certification for the teacher and student performance. North Carolina is one of the few states that provide extra pay for board certification.

    I can see making a case for dropping extra pay for board certification in North Carolina, but not for Masters degrees. Let's look at it from a competitive perspective; nearly all the other states in the U.S. provide extra pay for educator's Masters degree - North Carolina needs to compete against those states to get the best teachers.

    One of the primary reasons North Carolina can not keep our top 10% young teachers in the classroom is because they leave for states with much higher pay.

  • junkmail5 May 23, 9:34 a.m.

    You mean the ones that pay NO state or Federal income tax now?-= Publicassistance

    Right... becuase they make so little they can not afford to.

    Even Adam Smith, the guy who literally wrote the book on capitalism, understood that was the right way to run a tax system.

    Why don't you?

    The ones who receive most of the benefits?- publicassistance

    That would be rich people. By FAR.

    That's a pretty basic point of economics in fact.

    The tax cuts for the rich would be the replacing of income taxes with sales taxes BTW.... sales taxes are regressively punishing of the poor, subjecting near 100% of ther income to taxation.

  • publicassistance May 23, 9:20 a.m.

    "The very bottom of the income heap, who have the least disposable income, will get nailed. The very wealthy will make out like bandits." - miseem

    You mean the ones that pay NO state or Federal income tax now? The ones who receive most of the benefits?

    I think it is about time EVERYONE had a little skin in the game. Go GOP!!!!!

  • publicassistance May 23, 9:17 a.m.

    "Increased and added fees on everything imaginable and taxes on all services, online purchases, tolls...the list is endless. The greatest tax increase on the middle class in NC History and it is ALL THE RUBUBLICANS 100%. How about that NC?" - jankenpie

    I thought you leftys liked tax increases? More money to fund your precious social engineering experiments and buy votes. You should be grateful .....

  • publicassistance May 23, 9:15 a.m.

    "I have looked through this budget, and I've heard your talking points about tax cuts for the rich," Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson said. "Can you point me to the line and the page number for the tax cut?"

    Of course they can't! The facts don't matter. They know if they just drive home the class warfare talking points often enough, some fools will buy the drivel.

    Fiscal responsibility is not in the Demo lexicon. They want to waste and give away more tax money and give the bill to the most productive members of society...

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