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North Carolina Senate approves spending plan adjustments, amid budget impasse with House

The North Carolina state flag flies outside the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.
Matt Ramey
for WUNC
The North Carolina state flag flies outside the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.

The North Carolina Senate approved late Monday a budget-adjustment measure that is stripped down and spends less compared to similar legislation advanced by their House GOP counterparts last week.

The Senate voted 27-19 along party lines for the Republican-drawn measure, which alters the second year of a two-year budget enacted by the General Assembly last fall.

With Republicans from each chamber currently unwilling to consider the other chamber’s proposal, GOP leaders have signaled they're ready to send colleagues home after this week without a budget adjustment agreement. They could return later in the summer to act if the standoff eases.

“Even if we can’t get an agreement with the House on these measures, I am confident that the state of North Carolina is going to be in good shape,” Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican who is one of the chamber's chief budget-writers, told colleagues during floor debate. Jackson suggested lawmakers could even wait until early 2025 if necessary.

The Senate plan would spend $31.4 billion during the fiscal year starting July 1, or $287 million less than the House plan. A chief difference is that the House is seeking to raise teacher and state employee pay above what the two-year budget already orders in the coming year. The Senate adjustments don't contain these additional pay increases.

Senate GOP leaders also are unhappy with the House for dipping deeper into state reserves to cover expenses, which they say is a bad move with economic uncertainty ahead. The Senate bill text also has over 200 fewer pages than the House plan and omits scores of House policy prescriptions.

Still, the two chambers' plans agree on allocating $487 million in public money for programs that help K-12 students attend private schools and eliminate a large combined program waiting list. Most of the money would go toward the state’s Opportunity Scholarships, which saw a dramatic increase in applicants for this fall because family income limits for recipients were eliminated last year.

Both chambers also allocate roughly $135 million to cover about 75% of the child care center grants that will no longer be provided by the federal government starting next month.

“There is nothing in this proposal that I have heard from a House member that they are opposed to,” said Republican Sen. Ralph Hise, of Mitchell County, in urging the other chamber to accept the Senate measure.

There's no threat of a government shutdown without an agreement. The state would operate on the $30.9 billion allocated for the second year in the current budget law. But a budget stalemate could threaten passage of voucher and child care spending provisions sought by many parents and businesses and that otherwise enjoy widespread support among Republicans.

Monday night's debate allowed Senate Democrats to criticize GOP spending priorities and promote those sought by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

They oppose expanding private-school vouchers, want hundreds of millions of dollars more for child care and pre-K programs and seek even larger teacher and state employees raises. Republicans used parliamentary maneuvers to block votes on the substance of several Democratic amendments that reflected these priorities.

Cooper has said the competing House and Senate budgets are “terrible” and suggested to reporters last week that a budget impasse wouldn’t be the worst result. While Cooper could veto any final budget measure, Republicans hold narrow veto-proof majorities.

“The Republican Supermajority’s refusal to consider any of our amendments is a clear indication of their unwillingness to invest in the future of our state,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, of Wake County, said in a statement.

Cooper’s proposed budget adjustments to spend $34.7 billion in the next fiscal year were essentially dead on arrival when he announced them on the first day of this year’s General Assembly work session.

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