House gives preliminary approval to state budget

May 3, 2019

The House on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a $23.9 billion state budget with surprisingly little debate.

After the 61-55 vote, a second required vote is expected Friday before the Senate starts crafting its spending plan.

“There’s a lot in this budget that will move the state forward,” said Rep. Donnie Lambeth, R-Forsyth, a senior budget writer.

Senate Minority Leader Darren Jackson tried to derail the budget by sending it back to the House Health committee, where a Medicaid expansion plan could be added.

Jackson, D-Wake, argued that Medicaid expansion is a top priority for Democrats and that Gov. Roy Cooper will likely veto the budget without it, leading to an impasse with the Republican legislative majority that could last for months.

“This is not the proper time” for a Medicaid debate,” said Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell, chairman of the House Health committee.

“We need to move the budget forward,” Lambeth agreed, and the effort failed on a 55-62 vote.

The budget includes raises for teachers with at least 16 years of classroom experience that average 4.6 percent. Teachers with less experience would get their step increases on the state salary schedule but wouldn’t get any additional raise.

Most other state workers would receive the greater of a 1 percent raise or $500. State retirees wouldn’t get any pension bumps in the coming year.

The way the budget is structured, however, would delay all proposed raises until Jan. 1 instead of starting them at the beginning of the 2019-20 fiscal year in July.

Jackson tried to move the raises back to the normal schedule, but GOP lawmakers tabled his proposed amendment to dispose of it without having to cast a vote on the merits.

That was among 32 budget amendments considered Thursday – more than 50 were handled in a House Appropriations committee hearing Wednesday, although some that failed in committee were resurrected on Thursday.

The Republican majority also tabled a proposal from Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, to delete a provision of the budget that would essentially prohibit school districts from closing for events such as Wednesday’s teacher rally at the legislature and would limit teachers’ ability to take a personal day to attend such an event.

Von Haefen also tried to remove funding for moving the state Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters from Raleigh to Rocky Mount, but that was defeated by a 52-63 vote.

Democrats also failed in efforts to restore the Earned Income Tax Credit, give property tax relief to disabled veterans, provide funding for bike lanes, move some funding from the Opportunity Scholarships school voucher program to other educational programs, spend more on researching GenX and other new chemical compounds in the state’s waters and shift funds from pregnancy crisis centers.

It took three amendments to get it done, but funding was pulled from an experimental program for virtual pre-kindergarten instruction. Opponents argued youngsters need more actual instruction by teachers and parents and less screen time, and lawmakers eventually shifted all of the funding proposed for the program to grants to help school districts deal with troubled students.

After all of the amendments were done, no one spoke in favor of the full budget, and Jackson was the only one to speak against it. He said it fails state workers and teachers and prioritizes tax cuts over education and health spending.