House passes budget agreement

housefloorRALEIGH – Just after midnight the N.C. House gave final passage to the long-awaited budget conference report. The final vote was 81-33 with all Republicans and 11 Democrats voting for it. The vote came after months of discussion that insiders say ranged from old-fashioned horse trading to broader, philosophical debate on the role of government. The Senate passed it on Tuesday and Wednesday, so this morning’s vote sends the budget straight to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk where he says he will sign it.

Both chambers are claiming victory because the agreement increases money for education, Medicaid reform and public safety while still cutting personal income taxes. At the beginning of the process, the chambers were miles apart in policy and the total spending number. During the process the Senate agreed to remove policy initiatives, such as Medicaid reform, from their budget in exchange for the House coming down on the total spending number.

“It’s very infrequent that the differences in a budget passed by this chamber and a budget passed by our colleagues passed across the way have had as many differences as this particular year has,” Said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett County) on House floor. “But I am very proud of the negotiators and the staff but also of the patience that each and everyone of you have shown in making your concerns known, sharing those with the negotiators, and supporting our negotiators to stand firm on so many of the House positions… I’m proud of this bill.”

Opponents of the budget bill objected to the there not being a cost-of-living-adjustment for state retirees and that there are $750 bonuses, instead of raises, for teachers with more than five years of experience.

“This budget I wouldn’t even say is adequate, being 46th or 47th in student funding is not adequate. This budget also continues to be blind to Medicaid expansion,” said Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville) “You want to help business? Give them a better worker or a better customer. Commitment to education or improve the wages and viability of folks.  We are not fixing the slide we have been in since the recession… I wish we could do better.”

Still, the budget passed with bipartisan support. McCrory also got much of what he outlined in the State of the State address last year, a speech given on the very floor of tonight’s vote. His priorities included raises for corrections and Highway Patrol troopers and the creation of the Department of Information Technology.  The new department will consolidate government operations and purchasing, with the goal of saving $30 million over the next two years by controlling duplicative spending across state agencies.  His request for a new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and $1.7 million to support military installations in the state is also in the budget.

The measure to privatize Medicaid (House Bill 372) is running as a separate bill and is on the House floor calendar for Tuesday.