Following delays, divisions and more than eight hours of debate House lawmakers gave approval to a $22 billion state budget early Friday.
The plan increases state spending by more than a billion dollars, though the road to passage was hardly smooth. Deliberations on the measure were delayed by more than a day following criticism of the budget draft from some members and conservative groups.
By early Friday morning Republicans had made significant alterations to the proposal, before it received a majority of votes from both parties.
“This budget provides for the needs of our people,” began lead budget writer Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) from the House floor, “in education, in the classroom, our teachers, our courts, our infrastructure.”More than 60 amendments were debated. The results from some of those provisions include:
- Allocating $1 million for a new program to place fresh fruits and vegetables in convenience stores located in designated “food deserts," which are mostly in eastern North Carolina. Funding for House Bill 250, called the “Healthy Food Small Retailer Fund,” is contingent upon approval.
- Five bankable days of vacation for state employees
- Keeping a tax credit for renewable energy. An amendment sought to remove the tax break. Instead, investments in renewable energy would be eligible for a tax credit of 20% through January 1st, 2018. This represents a compromise as lawmakers had proposed a 35% tax credit. Without action, the renewable break would have ended this January.
- Creation – and clarification – for a $5 million grant program ($2.5 million in each of the next two fiscal years) that would provide body cameras for local law enforcement officers. The program would award a maximum of $100,000 to agencies, and those departments would be required to match the funding.
- Setting aside $1 million to help build charter schools in rural areas. The state would provide money to the private nonprofit Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which would launch a pilot program to aid charter schools with start-up costs. Rep. Rosa Gill (D-Wake) proposed an amendment, which failed 51-62, to redirect the annual allotment of $1 million to provide more teacher assistants instead. She and others argued that the state should not send public dollars to private entities.
The budget now heads to the Senate, which is crafting its own spending plan expected to be unveiled in June.