State budget sent to governor, but veto expected
The $24 billion state budget was sent Thursday afternoon to Gov. Roy Cooper's office after final approval in both the House and the Senate, but where the plan really sits remains to be seen.Posted — Updated
Cooper and Republican legislative leaders have been bickering over the budget in recent weeks, especially over his desire to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income working adults statewide. He is widely expected to veto the budget bill in the coming days, which could set up a prolonged standoff.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson expressed confidence on Wednesday that his caucus will remain united and uphold a veto.
"After the veto, [the budget] will be back in our hands," Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said Thursday. "Let's do it differently ... It can't happen the way that it's happened thus far, or else we're just going to be stuck."
The budget that House and Senate Republicans rolled out Tuesday includes teacher salary increases in the neighborhood of 2 percent a year over the next two years that are heavily weighted toward teachers with at least 15 years experience.
Past state budgets focused on younger teachers, and legislative leaders have said it's time to focus on veteran teacher salaries.
Teachers with 15 years on the job or less would get only their normal step increases on the salary schedule. Teachers with more would get additional raises between 1 and 3 percent in the budget's first year. Teachers with 25 years of experience or more would get $500 bonuses in each year of the two-year spending plan.
Most state employees would get 2.5 percent salary increases each year, budget writers said, with $15 million more earmarked to supplement salaries in hard-to-fill prison jobs.
State retirees would get 0.5 percent bonuses to their pensions, instead of a true cost-of-living increase, in both budget years.
"A vote against this budget is a vote against these programs. It will impact people," said Rep. Donnie Lambeth, R-Forsyth, after ticking off a list of items in the budget, from services to parents of deaf children to prescription assistance for low-income people to financial assistance for rural hospitals.
"Are you willing to simply go into a new year with no budget?" Lambeth asked.
The proposal also has tax cuts the House and Senate have previously backed in other bills this session, raising the standard deduction for personal income taxpayers, increasing collections on internet sales taxes and rolling back the state's franchise tax on businesses.
The budget also includes language requiring the state Department of Health and Human Services to move from Raleigh to Granville County and calls for $4.4 billion in state spending on K-12 school construction, usually a local obligation, over the next decade using an existing state infrastructure fund.
"Most legislation we pass, let's be honest, will not matter to most North Carolinians, but this budget will make a difference to the citizens of North Carolina," said Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell.
But Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, said that difference was a bad one for hundreds of DHHS employees who may be forced to quit their jobs because they cannot make a daily commute to Granville County once offices are moved out of Raleigh. She called the 395-page bill and 600-plus pages of budget documents "a mediocre novel with little to no social redeeming value."
Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood, said the plan turns North Carolina's motto on its head, calling it a "seem rather than a be budget."
"There is only one direction to go with this budget, and that is to vote it down, veto it and start a genuine negotiation that includes everyone."
Rep. Allison Dahle, D-Wake, complained that she and other Democrats have been shut out of the budget process so far.
"How can we even begin to agree if we do not work together?" Dahle asked. "The people of North Carolina elected all of us and expect all of us to put our differences aside and work together to represent all of North Carolina."
But House Majority Leader John Bell called blocking the budget over a lack of Medicaid expansion irresponsible.
"As elected officials, it's our duty to govern," said Bell, R-Wayne. "It's our duty to put people above politics."
Cooper has 10 days to decide what to do with the budget. He can sign it, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law without his signature.
Lawmakers are planning to take a break for a few days while they wait on his decision.
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