Raleigh, N.C. — Less than 24 hours after the final $21.73 billion budget deal was unveiled, state senators voted 33-16 along party lines Tuesday to tentatively approve it.
A final Senate vote is expected Wednesday. Meanwhile, House members defeated a proposal to move its vote up one day and will vote on the budget Thursday and shortly after midnight Friday.
The temporary spending plan lawmakers put in place until they could craft a final budget runs through Friday.
"We have a budget that fairly represents the priorities of both the House and Senate," said Senate budget chief Harry Brown, R-Onslow.
Brown highlighted funding for education, money for repairs and renovations and changes in the distribution of new sales tax revenue to help rural counties.
"The plan will ultimate help struggling counties, and that is a positive step for the state. No local government will lose revenue," he said.
Democrats in the chamber complained loudly that they had not had time to read the 636-page document before having to vote on it. It was published online shortly before midnight, and hard copies were not available until Tuesday morning.
"If you can tell I haven’t shaved, it’s because I was in my office all night trying to read this thing," said Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, arguing that the rush to vote is disrespectful to Democratic lawmakers and their constituents. "This is as bad as it gets. This is just about rock bottom."
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, recalled years under Democratic leadership when the minority party didn't see the budget until they came into the chamber to vote on it.
"This is exactly what you complained about when you were in the minority and my party abused the process," Jackson said. "You campaigned on this."
"It’s time to get this done," said Senate Presidento Pro Tem Phil Berger. "We’ve now converted from 'Why haven’t you gotten this done?' to 'Why are you going so fast?'"
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said the money the budget spends on tax cuts should have gone to schools and universities and teacher pay instead.
"We had a budget surplus this year. When are we going to make up for some of the ground we lost during the recession? Why aren’t we doing it now?" Stein asked.
"It emphasizes tax relief for rich and out-of-state corporations at the expense of the average North Carolinian," agreed Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake. "When you raise motor vehicles fees by $200 million, I know that the average working person is going pay more to drive their car."
"Yes, there were some increases in some fees, but the cuts in the taxes exceeded the increases of the fees," responded Apodaca. "So, that’s fiscal responsibility."
Berger, R-Rockingham, said the budget reflects Republican priorities of tax relief and fiscal conservatism, saying that the plan's increase in the rainy day fund will bring that reserve to well over $1 billion.
"We have learned the lesson of 2010," Berger said, referring to the tight budget in the wake of the national recession. "You cannot spend all the money you have."