Raleigh, N.C. — The state budget is headed back to the Senate for negotiations after winning its final House vote Thursday, 77-40.
House Republican budget-writers say their $20.6 billion plan fully funds Medicaid, adds 5,000 pre-kindergarten seats and includes compensation for survivors of the state's eugenics program.
"This is a commonsense budget. It meets the needs of our citizens," said Senior Appropriations Committee Chairman Nelson Dollar.
"I think it sends the message that the state has to live within its means, just like each and every one of us have to live within our means," added Rep. Allen McNeill, R-Randolph.
Democratic critics say the plan underfunds vital programs in education, health and economic development in order to pay for a tax break that will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest people in the state.
Minority Leader Larry Hall said the $54 million in new fees in the proposal will fall hardest on small businesses.
“There is no difference between a tax and a fee. They're both three-letter words that take money out of your pocket," said Hall, D-Durham. "But those millionaires got their tax break."
"You came here talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. You haven’t created one job that I know of," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham. "You have cut jobs."
The House plan would cut hundreds of state positions, many of them in the closing of prisons and detention centers legislators say are no longer needed. It also cuts funding for teaching assistants, the university system and minority economic development programs.
"This budget does serious harm, and the argument that’s being used that we have no choice is not true." said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland. "We have choices. It’s just that we don’t like some of the choices."
"Tell me what taxes you want to increase," replied Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes.
"I've heard a lot of talk and bemoaning about the cuts as if all cuts are bad. That’s far too simplistic," said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union. "Some cuts are good. We cut where necessary."
Though he opposed it, Hall said the Republican-penned House plan "is the least of all evils for the budgets that are out there," compared with proposals from the Senate and Gov. Pat McCrory.
In his final floor speech, he urged House leaders to fight for their additional K-12 funding and eugenics compensation in their coming negotiations with Senate leaders.
“Don’t go into that conference committee and then sell us out,” Hall said. "Make sure the best things in this budget don’t get given away in a conference committee behind closed doors."
After the vote, Dollar, R-Wake, said he believes the House and Senate plans have more similarities than differences, and he predicted that the conference process would go quickly, even with the addition of negotiations over tax reform.
Dollar predicted the two sides would approve a compromise plan in time for the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.