After bluster, a House budget

After long hours of sometimes bitter debate, NC House lawmakers gave final approval today to a $19.3 billion spending plan.

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Laura Leslie

State House lawmakers gave final approval today to a $19.3 billion dollar spending plan that makes deep cuts across state government to offset a projected $2.5 billion dollar budget gap.  

The final vote was 72-47, the same as Tuesday's, despite three more hours of debate that Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, described as "a sea of rhetoric." 

Under the GOP bill, the state’s operating funds would total about 7 percent less than the governor recommended – a difference of about $1.52 billion. Most of that cut comes out of education, which would take a hit of $1.3 billion.

Senior budget chair Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, recapped his comments from Tuesday’s debate, calling the proposal “fiscally sound.”

Republicans insist only a few thousand currently employed state workers would lose their jobs under the plan. But Democrats say “reversions” and “reverse allocations” – budget jargon for cuts in agency funding – will result in far higher job losses.

Former budget chairman Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, says the positions cut under the GOP plan could be as high as 30,000, including 11,000 teacher assistants. He called the proposal "a complete and wholesome abomination." 

“You came here with the mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs,” Michaux said. “What you are doing with the overall jobless rate in this state is adding more to it.”

“This budget impacts the least of these,” said Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford. “Those who have not will continue to have not. And they’ll probably have less. Those who have more will continue to get more.”

Democrats had argued for an extension of temporary sales and income taxes, saying the additional $1.4 billion in revenue would ease the worst of the cuts. That’s the same strategy the Dems employed in 2009. But Republicans say they won’t consider it.

“That budget and that tax increase is the reason I’m here now,” said an angry Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort. “The citizens of NC agreed with me. I was sent here to bring some sanity to the budget process.”

“This budget recognizes the difference between want and need,” Cook said. “We may want to do everything for everyone, but we can only afford what’s needed.”

Budget writers said the measure represents the biggest tax relief in state history.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, called the budget “a jobs bill.” “We’re gonna put money back in the hands of working families across this state, in every community in this state, and that will help the economy.”

“Ronald Reagan was right,” Dollar argued. “You cannot tax your way to prosperity.”

But Rep. Phil Haire. D-Jackson, called the budget “an anti-jobs bill.”

“Where is the job for these 20 to 30 thousand [state workers]?” Haire asked. “How do they fit in? How is that going to stimulate the economy?”

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Chatham, said the cuts to education will put North Carolina dead last in the nation in per-capita spending on pupils.

“We thought we would be coming in to cut ‘waste, fat and fraud’,” Insko said. “I don’t think teacher assistants are ‘waste, fat and fraud.”

Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Madison, described the 20% cut to Smart Start as “pennywise and pound foolish.”

“That is not 6400 slots,” Rapp said. “That’s 6400 children. And they’re only four years old once.”

Republicans fired back that they wouldn’t have had to make such deep cuts if Democrats had managed the budget better when they were in charge.

“You want to be the Party of No?” Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, asked Democrats. “You go ahead. We’re gonna be the party of k-n-o-w because we k-n-o-w that you cannot spend more money than you take in.”

“The people hired us in November to fix these things,” Folwell continued, quoting former Rep. Pryor Gibson: “This thing has been like an onion. The more we peeled it, the more we cried.”



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