RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina's budget was signed into law Friday by Gov. Pat McCrory, more than two months after it was due, following a standoff and protracted negotiations between House and Senate Republicans.
McCrory's office confirmed he had signed the 429-page budget measure hours after the General Assembly gave it final legislative approval with a post-midnight 81-33 vote in the House. The Senate voted for the two-year spending bill earlier in the week.
The budget was due July 1, but GOP leaders got bogged down amid stark differences in their competing plans. The delays required lawmakers to pass three temporary spending laws to direct government operations, the last of which expired Friday night.
McCrory, also a Republican who took office in 2013, had complained last weekend about portions of the budget's tax package that expanded items subject to sales taxes and earmarked more of the proceeds to about 80 more small and rural counties.
But McCrory said the compromise plan included too many things he wanted — among them two new Cabinet-level departments and the revival of the historic preservation tax credit — to consider a veto. A veto would have led to a showdown with the legislature as the stopgap spending measure expired.
"The budget submitted to me by the General Assembly includes many of the goals and ideas we put forward to provide the tools North Carolina needs to continue what we have accomplished during the past three years," McCrory said in a release. He also cited funding for teacher assistants and driver's education, as well as increasing the minimum teacher salary to $35,000.
McCrory held no public signing ceremony for the budget, which spends more than $21.7 billion this year alone, but announced his decision at an unrelated Raleigh event.
Eleven House Democrats joined all of the chamber's Republicans in the final vote to support the budget. That compares to the more than 30 Democrats who voted for the House's original budget bill in May, which would have spent $421 million more than what the Senate and House ultimately agreed upon and offered salary increases to most all state employees and teachers.
The final negotiated bill only gave $750 bonuses to workers and scattered permanent salary increases around state government and schools.
"This is still a very strong bipartisan vote on a budget that really does fund North Carolina's priorities," said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. Three Senate Democrats also voted with the Republicans for the budget.
House Republicans trumpeted the final budget for increasing spending for the public schools by more than $410 million over last year. Senators had wanted to scale back teacher assistant funds and eliminate driver's ed money. Early-career teachers had $30,800 minimum salaries just two years ago.
House Democrats complained their Republican counterparts who negotiated with the Senate forgot the middle class. They cited income tax rate cuts that will give the highest wage earners the most monetary benefit, along with the expanded sales tax and higher Division of Motor Vehicles fees. The state had extra revenue for the coming year to work with through over-collections to boost education, Democrats said.
"I know we could have done better. You know we should have done better," House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, said during debate late Thursday. "I'm sure you're going to hear from North Carolinians who can't believe we started off with a $445 million surplus and ended up where we are tonight."
The budget set aside $600 million this year for emergency reserves and building repairs and $225 million over two years to prepare for a Medicaid overhaul.
The budget signing clears the path for the legislature to adjourn its eight-month annual session — the longest since 2001 — around the end of September.