- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Ultimately weighing in at 508 pages, the historically enormous Senate budget bill was called a “right-wing manifesto” by one liberal critic.

Democrats who voted against the Senate’s two-year spending plan last week said it favors corporate tax cuts over more public school funding. Even some House Republicans were put off by the measure’s size and suggested so many differences with their own 329-page budget bill were all for gamesmanship in upcoming budget talks.

The Senate budget is a “mammoth negotiating scheme,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

But to top Senate Republicans, the approved plan that would spend $21.5 billion next year is a reflection of core conservative priorities - frugal spending and generous savings, tax reductions to spur business growth, fewer regulations, smaller public school class sizes and fixing hemorrhaging government agencies like Medicaid.

“For years, folks have said budgets are documents that reflect priorities,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, adding that since taking over the legislature from Democrats in 2011, Republicans have tried to consistently make the point that “there are differences between the direction our folks would like to take and the direction the state had been going in the past.”

Whatever its label, the Senate budget almost will assuredly extend the General Assembly’s stay in Raleigh deep into the summer.

Legislative leaders late last week quickly gave up on passing a compromise plan and getting it Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk before the new fiscal year begins July 1. Predicted negotiating time, usually measured in weeks, is now being talked about in months around the Legislative Building.

“We will stay until we get it done,” said Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, a senior House Finance Committee chairman.

Usually the competing budgets passed by the House and Senate have measurable differences. The House plan it approved last month, for example, provides $40 million for a venture capital fund sought by McCrory and allows renewable energy tax credits to continue for two more years. The Senate version does not.

This year, the Senate budget also is chock full of extensive policy changes its Republican leaders declined to consider in separate legislation, as the House did.

Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the Senate’s chief budget-writer, acknowledged there’s “a lot of it complicated stuff” in the budget but defended its size and scope. Most everything inside it, he said, “relates back to budget dollars and revenues and expenses, so we just felt like it should be part of the budget.”

The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity gave the Senate budget its seal of approval, reinforcing arguments of the plan’s conservative ideological slant. AFP opposed the House budget for increasing spending by more than $1 billion over this year, nearly $700 million more than the Senate.

Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, said incorporating so much in a budget with so little public scrutiny is a disservice to the public and those that would be affected by the Senate’s changes. The budget was largely drawn up behind closed doors.

“There is no transparency in this process,” Van Duyn said.

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