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NC House passes $21 billion budget

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RALEIGH, N.C. - The North Carolina House gave final approval Friday morning to its proposed state budget, the third budget proposed in a little more than a month by state officials.  Representatives voted 77-35 to approve the budget.

The vote came a day after the House spent about eight hours debating the budget and offering up amendments.   It voted 81-36 Thursday night to approve the budget.  By rule, the House must vote twice on the budget on separate days. 

"This budget is the most promising path forward," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican.

Dollar called the document "a sound budget."

But the budget drew criticism from Democrats and others.

"Although I'm not voting for this budget, it's better than what the Senate did," said Rep. Larry Hall, the minority leader.

The budget, which comes in at just under $21.1 billion, addresses several hot topic issues.  It would create a 5 percent pay raise, on average, for teachers in North Carolina.  Those teachers who currently have tenure would be able to keep it and the House budget proposal does not cut teaching assistants.  It differs in that way from a proposal approved in the Senate, which would grant teachers an 11 percent raise, on average.  But, that same budget cuts about half of the state’s teaching assistants and would not give teachers that raise if they choose to keep their tenure status.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Democrat from  Durham, tried to bring forth an amendment Friday that would increase the House raise for teachers even further to about 7.5 percent.  House members voted to table the measure, meaning they did not vote on the actual amendment.

Between the two days, there were a total of 40 amendments introduced.  Democrats have voiced concerns that Republicans are relying on an additional $106 million that is projected to come from the North Carolina Education Lottery to fund the teacher raises.  Republicans say they will allow the Lottery to double the amount of money from its budget that could go toward advertising.  They say Lottery officials told them they would be able to get the extra money with additional advertising and the start of two new games.

Beyond teacher pay, the House proposal would set aside $117 million for a reserve fund for Medicaid.  The budget would move the State Bureau of Investigation from the Department of Justice to the Department of Public Safety.  That would take the SBI away from the oversight of Attorney General Roy Cooper and shift it to an agency under the authority of Governor Pat McCrory.  Cooper is expected to run for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

On Thursday, Representative Darren Jackson, a Democrat from Wake County, proposed an amendment that would keep the SBI with the Attorney General.  Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett, motioned to table the amendment.  Another amendment brought forth Friday by House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Democrat Durham, would have kept a division of the SBI under the control of the Attorney General.  That amendment failed.

The budget now moves to the Senate where Senators can vote whether to approve it as is.  Likely though, they will not give it immediate approval and instead will go to a conference committee with House members to decide on a final version.  That version, once approved, would then go to the Governor.

"Although I'm not voting for this budget, it's better than what the Senate did," said Rep. Larry Hall, the minority leader.

Alexandra Forter, director of the Budget and Tax Center, said the budget "shortchanges the needs of North Carolinians - the inevitable result of tax cuts for wealthy people and large, profitable corporations."

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