NC Senate gives tentative approval to Republican budget
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Senate tentatively agreed Thursday to a state spending plan for the next two years written by Republicans, who kept to their decade-old formula of budgets with tax cuts, tempered spending growth and money being parked in reserves.
After four hours of debate, the chamber voted 29-18 for the measure, which GOP leaders also peddled for passage by focusing on improved salaries for state employees, rural broadband grants and tens of millions of dollars for school safety and mental health needs. The bill cuts the corporate franchise tax rate by more than 50% and slightly increases the standard deductions for individual income tax filers.
A second Senate vote is scheduled for Friday, after which the process for House and Senate Republicans to negotiate a final plan to present to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper begins in earnest.
The governor, who has criticized both chambers’ plans, should have more to say about the ultimate budget compared to the first half of his term, when Republicans held veto-proof majorities. Recent electoral gains mean Democrats can now uphold Cooper’s vetoes if they remain largely united, especially in the House.
“It’s not the last word,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Wake County said while predicting a Cooper veto would set up tough talks this summer between the executive and legislative branches over Medicaid expansion, taxes and infrastructure spending. “This will be the first time that Gov. Cooper sits at the table ... All of us are in a different kind of environment.”
Still, Senate Republicans managed to get support from two Democrats who voted for the plan, which spends $23.9 billion next fiscal year, or a 3% increase over this year. Cooper’s budget proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars more.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said it would be a “huge mistake” if Cooper vetoed a Republican budget like the one his chamber assembled. “This budget is a huge compromise in terms of all the funding priorities that are in here.”
Despite using the language of compromise, Republicans refused to back down on several key provisions in floor debate, using parliamentary maneuvers or outright rejecting Democratic amendments designed to extract unwelcome GOP policies.
Democratic Sen. Don Davis of Greene County tried unsuccessfully to remove a section that Vidant Medical Center in Greenville says would reduce its Medicaid payments by $35 million annually.
Senate Republicans have said they are now treating Vidant, the teaching hospital affiliated with East Carolina University, like any other private hospital now because Vidant leaders decided recently to keep appointees created by the UNC Board of Governors off the hospital board. Without UNC oversight, Vidant should no longer keep preferred Medicaid status, GOP Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County said this week.
Davis decried the payment change, saying “it punishes the people of eastern North Carolina that need care the most ... this is a slap in the face to eastern North Carolina.”
Sen. Terry Van Duyn of Buncombe County, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2020, later tried to run an amendment to expand Medicaid through the federal health care law.
Senate Republicans, who are strongly opposed to expansion, declared the amendment out of order. Berger, who presided over the debate from the dais, then cut off Van Duyn’s microphone as she tried to make her case to override the ruling and kept speaking despite Berger’s demand to stop. Berger, the chamber leader since 2011, said it was the first time he could remember doing that.
The GOP also defeated an amendment that would have restored four judicial branch positions, including three assigned to new Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, the first African American woman at the post. It would cut the filled positions within Beasley’s office staff in half, a judicial branch spokeswoman said Thursday.
“It just seems morally wrong,” said Sen. Paul Lowe, a Forsyth County Democrat who offered the unsuccessful amendment. “And I’m just going to leave it there.”
Sen. Warren Daniel of Burke County, a budget-writer, said he was told two of the positions had been vacant as of May 1. Otherwise, he said, the Supreme Court already has plenty of support personnel: “We’re not talking about a body that is without legal expertise.”