Senate gives final approval to $22.2B spending plan

Posted June 2
Updated June 28

— Senate members voted 26-13 shortly after midnight Friday to give final approval to their 2016-17 spending proposal.

Unlike Thursday morning, when the debate was contentious on several points before senators voted along party lines to give preliminary approval to the $22.2 billion budget proposal, there was no debate early Friday. Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, was the only lawmaker to speak before Friday's vote, registering a complaint that the budget would eliminate extra funding for nine early college or STEM high schools, many in rural counties.

On Thursday, Democrats praised the large proposed teacher pay raises, but they denounced the lack of raises for state employees and the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for state retirees.

"We cannot fix Recession-era teacher pay gaps in one year and certainly not to the detriment of 85,000 additional state employees as well as state retirees," Smith-Ingram argued. "We cannot give everything to everyone, but we can offer some balance in this budget and offer some support to all."

Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, said the average retiree receives just $20,000 a year and hasn’t seen a cost-of-living increase since 2009.

"Some of them are having to eat cat food as a means of their meals," Waddell, a retired educator, told the Senate. "We can do better."

Republicans countered that there wasn't enough money to cover both groups and argued that the COLA would have added to the state pension fund's liability in future years.

"I would have loved to have done a COLA. I would have loved to have seen the increases in the salary package bigger," said Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson. "But we were not able to do that at this time."

"You know we can't print money, and we have to try to do the best we can as we set these budgets," added Senate chief budget writer Harry Brown, R-Onslow. "It's about priorities."

There was enough money, however, to cover an increase in the standard state income tax deduction, expected to save the average joint filer about $50 when it takes effect for tax year 2017. The price tag for the tax cut – $145 million next year – is more than twice that of a 1.6 percent COLA, which would cost $67.2 million.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger defended the tax cut, saying taxpayers of the state expect lawmakers to exercise restraint in spending.

"They also expect us to think of them when there's extra money, and this year, as last year, there is extra money," Berger, R-Rockingham, said. "Part of that money is going back to the people of North Carolina, and that's important."

Senate Republicans and Democrats also sparred at length over a large proposed increase in the state's school voucher program, as well as a provision to throw out and replace water quality laws passed years ago to protect Jordan Lake and Falls Lake. But with a 2-1 majority in the chamber, GOP lawmakers easily fended off Democrats' attempts to strip those provisions from the plan.

One amendment also removed three historically black universities from a proposal to deeply discount tuition at five University of North Carolina campuses to offer students a more affordable option for college.


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  • Carol Smith Jun 3, 12:37 p.m.
    user avatar

    berger has yet to to think of north carolinians FIRST. he has cost us millions, torn apart our educational sys
    tem, and made us a national embarrassment. his bigotry drives him and he has wasted millions because of it.

  • William James Jun 3, 10:05 a.m.
    user avatar

    Those who are against offering state employee's a pay raise need to appreciate the fact that they aren't paid that well or equal to the private market in the first place. Also, NC state government is the largest employer in this state, so at least if they gave state employees a pay raise that same money would make it back to to be spent in every county in this state vs. other state expenditures and pet projects that cost millions, yet only help or effect 3-4 counties.

  • Mary Jones Jun 3, 8:45 a.m.
    user avatar

    While I am for increase in treacher pay, it is disgusting that the State of North Carolina does not support its retirees who have been loyal to.this State by their many years of service. I read where one Senator said retirees were too expensive to give raise a to!!! But, teacher raises were NOT expensive to taxpayers??? Does not make sense !! After all, there is an election coming up!!!

  • Morrissa Walters Jun 3, 7:32 a.m.
    user avatar

    ...meanwhile, other state employees who are considered essential personnel are still living with wages that still qualify for public assistance. Some of these people have 20+ years experience & degrees. I'm all for making sure teachers are paid adequately, as they are essential to society, however, there are others who work beyond the normal 8-5 that are almost in poverty.