RALEIGH, N.C. — Senate Republicans gave initial approval to their budget proposal Thursday and prevailed over Democrats who favored new Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan, voting to extend the GOP’s recent broad tax cuts that keep benefiting corporations and the highest wage earners.
In a 34-15 party-line vote, the Senate backed the GOP’s state government spending blueprint through mid-2019. A second and final Senate vote was scheduled shortly after midnight. The legislation will next move to the House, where Republicans also are in charge. The two chambers want to pass a final budget before the fiscal year begins July 1.
A 2½-hour debate focused largely on comparing the GOP plan, which spends $22.9 billion in the coming year, and the budget recommended two months ago by Cooper, a Democrat, which sought to spend $579 million more.
The competing proposals, which benefit from a revenue surplus, both raise teacher pay and put aside more than $300 million into the state’s rainy day reserve. The big difference is that Republican budget-writers inserted another round of tax cuts that would mean more than $1 billion over the next two years. Cooper’s plan only offered to revive a child-care tax credit.
GOP lawmakers say lower taxes have contributed to the recovering economy and put more money in people’s pockets and would continue to do both. Their latest tax proposal would decrease individual and corporate income tax rates even lower and increase standard deductions— meaning more lower-income people would pay zero income taxes.
“I believe that we’ve done our job here,” said Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “It’s all not bad and it’s all not doom and gloom.”
Unable to unravel the GOP plan with amendments, Democrats highlighted Cooper’s budget as the preferred method to help working families and rural areas and spend more on education than Republicans would. It was a departure from their strategy in previous legislative sessions.
Democrats performed a question-and-answer with each other on the floor to criticize the GOP plan. They said the money going to the richest people and corporations with tax breaks should be used to invest in programs and workers’ salaries still lagging since the Great Recession.
Several initiatives in Cooper’s plan were either ignored by the GOP or funded at a fraction of what the new governor wanted. Cooper’s plan would have raised teacher salaries on average by 5 percent, compared to 3.7 percent on average in the Senate plan.
“We note that it contains some of the ideas that Cooper (offered), but it doesn’t go far enough for our working families,” said Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham County Democrat, adding that “if we fail to make sound investments in our people and our growing state, we will continue to fall behind.”
Republican leaders chafed at Democrats calling it “a billionaire’s budget,” saying 99 percent of the individual income tax filers will pay less or pay no state personal income taxes at all. They recalled when Democrats were in charge of the legislature before 2011. They said Democrats passed budgets with higher tax rates and spending levels that contributed to deep budget holes during the Great Recession.
“What the governor’s budget does is what a lot of the (Democratic) budgets did and that is spend it all,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown of Onslow County, also a chief budget-writer.
House Republicans have their own ideas on tax breaks and haven’t committed to the Senate tax proposal. Cooper will be hard pressed to block the final Republican plan if GOP legislators unite.