RALEIGH, North Carolina — House Republicans experienced the first showing of strong bipartisan support for a budget bill since before the Great Recession as the chamber passed a two-year spending plan that benefited from a revenue windfall.
The House gave final approval early Friday to its version of the budget, with a majority of both Democratic and GOP caucuses voting for the measure that seeks to spend $22.2 billion, or nearly $1.1 billion more next fiscal year compared to the current year.
"The vote exceeded if not met our expectations," said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, after the final vote of 93-23, which occurred at 1:15 a.m. The first of two required votes occurred late Thursday just before midnight, generating a nearly identical result after seven hours of debate over more than 40 amendments.
The measure offered most members something to be happy about, whether teacher and state employee pay raises of at least 2 percent, $400 million for reserves or improved courts funding. A previously repealed income tax deduction for medical expenses also was restored.
Since taking control of the legislature in 2011, Republicans have had a cut-first mentality, whether to address revenue shortfalls or conservative principles of smaller government. That eased somewhat this year when state economists projected a $400 million surplus that also trickled down into more than $800 million in additional funds at their disposal through mid-2017.
"It's nice to have time when we can actually talk about being able to restore some funding after all the years of cuts we had to make," Moore said.
Rep. Duane Hall of Raleigh, one of 32 of the chamber's 45 Democrats who voted yes, said he couldn't reject a proposal that contained environmental spending improvements and worker pay raises.
"There's a ton of state employees in my district, so that meant a lot to me, and the retirement fund was secure," Hall said early Friday.
Those on the losing side were 12 mostly liberal Democrats unhappy with previously approved corporate tax reductions baked into the plan and 11 mostly hard-line conservatives angry about higher spending, increased Division of Motor Vehicles fees and extending tax incentives. The conservatives were urged on by right-leaning taxpayer advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity.
But Republican leaders persuaded other GOP colleagues to vote yes after making a series of adjustments in committees throughout the week to rein in renewable energy tax credits, reduce money for TV and film production grants by $20 million and pull back DMV fee increases from 50 percent to 30 percent.
"It's gotten better and better as we've met," said House Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, a key critic.
Key portions of the crafted compromise were preserved during floor debate. Provisions remained intact to extend by two years and scale back tax credits for renewable energy projects and to create a $40 million fund sought by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory for venture capital spending using unclaimed property money held by the State Treasurer. Amendments to kill off the fund and the credits both failed.
"To continue this credit one more a day is a travesty against the poor people of our state," said Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, arguing the credit was piling the cost of solar energy upon ratepayers and taxpayers. Collins ended up voting against the entire budget.
Democrats who voted no said the GOP majority could have delayed corporate income tax reductions during the next two years and used the revenues to raise teacher pay further or restore a tax deduction for North Carolina small businesses.
"We could have found more meaningful ways to put money in the pockets of average North Carolinians and improve our economy," said Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, who voted no.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which should have its own budget plan next month. Republican leaders have already signaled they plan to spend less and extend fewer tax breaks in their version. The two chambers will try to get a final budget to McCrory soon after.
McCrory was out of the state much of the week and hadn't spoken publicly about the House budget, which gave him several provisions he asked for in his budget proposal, such as the venture capital fund. But others were left out.
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