RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina House voted 72-41 Thursday afternoon to pass its version of the state budget, with nine Democrats joining with the Republicans in approving the plan.
The House will conference with the Senate next to try to reconcile differences and put together a bill to send to Gov. Roy Cooper (D).
The budget plan includes one-time bonuses and pay raises for state workers as well as tax cuts for individuals and businesses.
“It takes a lot of these one-time moneys and invests them in needs that have been around for decades. Everything from repairs and renovations, transportation, you name it,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R). “Having such a strong vote shows there’s a lot of support.”
While most state employees would see average raises of 5 percent over two years, K-12 teachers would see average raises of 5.5 percent. It also contains some provisions educators have wanted to see for years, including eliminating the requirement that teachers pay $50 to help hire a substitute when they take a personal day and restoring the salary boost for teachers with master’s degrees.
The personal income tax rate would drop from 5.25 percent to 4.99 percent and the standard deduction would increase. The corporate income tax rate would also be reduced but not phased out entirely as the Senate proposed to do in the years ahead.
Rep. John Szoke (R-Cumberland) said earlier this week a family making the median income would save about $330 on their tax bill.
The tax cut package is more modest than what the Senate approved, but the raises for workers are higher.
Democrats who voted against the plan cited a variety of concerns, including various policies Republicans put in the budget that would limit the Governor’s emergency powers and would require schools to post lesson plans and instructional materials online to be subject to scrutiny by the public. They sought to remove those provisions Thursday but failed to get enough votes to amend the bill.
The budget passed the House with a veto-proof majority. That was the case with the Senate’s version of the budget as well in June.
Republicans have agreed they want to keep spending capped at $25.7 billion in the current fiscal year, which started July 1, and capped at $26.7 billion next year.
With state projected to take in $6.5 billion more than originally expected over the next two years, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has called for greater spending than that and has also urged lawmakers once again to expand Medicaid coverage.
That was one of the key issues that led to Democrats and Republicans never agreeing on a spending plan two years ago.
On Thursday, during a demonstration organized by the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union- UE Local 150, people carried coffins from the Executive Mansion to the Legislative Building as they called on state leaders to expand Medicaid and improve healthcare access for hundreds of thousands more people.
At one point, a group chanted outside the House gallery, briefly disrupting the debate.
Robin Jordan says before her daughter Jessica died of a drug overdose, she struggled to get access to treatment she needed and could have benefited from qualifying for Medicaid.
“It’s so frustrating,” she said. “It’s so dejavu. We stood here two years ago. I told my daughter’s story then. I’ve told it several times. And there are thousands of Jessicas. She’s not alone.”
Democrats in Congress are urging North Carolina and the other remaining 11 states that have not expanded Medicaid to do so by offering to cover even more of the cost. The federal government covers 90 percent of the matching rate for expansion. Under a new law, the states that have held out would see a five percentage point increase in the matching rate for two years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Republican leaders agreed again this year not to include Medicaid expansion in the budget.
“I don’t think anyone should let any one issue create a problem. And, that’s where we were two years ago on Medicaid expansion. There’s just too much at stake,” said Speaker Moore.
While Democrats in the legislature still want the state to move forward with expanding Medicaid, they said unlike two years ago there’s no single issue that would prevent them from finding a compromise so that a budget actually passes.