- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The House’s $22.2 billion budget adjustment bill received final approval Thursday by the same wide margin as the day before, its support buoyed by pay raises, a tax break and no deep spending cuts.

Debate lasted barely 45 minutes before all Republicans in attendance joined most Democrats in voting 103-12 for the measure, which alters the second year of the two-year budget approved last September. The bill got initial approval Wednesday evening with an identical vote after less than four hours of amendments and discussion.

GOP leaders in the chambers said the measure finds the right balance between saving for the future and addressing nagging needs in public education and health, which combined represent more than three-quarters of state spending. Improving tax collections and lower demand for Medicaid services gave budget-writers extra cash for the spending plan’s second year.

“This bill does continue on that path to progress in this state, of moving our citizens forward,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The measure provides average teacher pay raises of 4.1 percent, although early-career teachers wouldn’t see their $35,000 minimum salaries go up as they have in the two previous years. They would get $1,000 bonuses, as would teachers with at least 25 years of experience, who would also receive 2 percent pay raises. Rank-and-file state employees would get 2 percent raises, plus $500 bonuses.

Most of Thursday’s floor speakers were Democrats who claimed that many of his Democratic colleagues were voting yes to boost the chamber’s negotiating position with the Senate, which aims to draw up and vote on its own plan by early June. House and Senate negotiators ultimately want to get a final plan to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk before July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

“I have never seen a budget leave here and get better over there” in the Senate, said Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, who voted yes.

Voting no was Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, who blamed income-tax cuts for corporations and individuals - particularly the highest wage-earners - for limiting what revenues are available to make post-recession investments in state services and pay.

“We are essentially denying the recovery in North Carolina that many other states are enjoying right now,” Fisher said, calling the bill “nothing more than an election-year Band-Aid.”

Republicans counter the broad tax overhaul they started in 2013 has benefited everyone and contributed to the state’s job growth and lower unemployment rate. The House budget adjustments include an annual increase in the standard deduction for income-tax filers from $200 to $500 for the next four years.

House and Senate Republicans agreed this month to limit the growth in budget spending next year to less than 2.3 percent. The House budget also includes $300 million more for the state’s reserves to cover shortfalls in the next recession.

“We’re going to be responsible. We’re going to fund those critical needs but at the same time we’re just not going to go on a spending binge,” Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, after Thursday’s vote.


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