RALEIGH, North Carolina — Senate Republicans handed off their vision of North Carolina's state budget to their counterparts Thursday in the House, who are likely to take issue with several proposals and listen to what GOP Gov. Pat McCrory wants in a final plan.
The Senate gave its final approval to a government spending plan through mid-2015 that includes favored initiatives by chamber leaders, such as the repeated effort by Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, to eliminate public school teacher tenure. The bill also moves the State Bureau of Investigation out from under Attorney General Roy Cooper's authority and eliminates Special Superior Court judges that sat at the center of a recent dust-up with the House and McCrory.
The House's senior budget writer kept his cards close to vest as his chamber begins in earnest next week. Republicans hope to have a plan passed in about three weeks, said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.
"I think these are issues that we will be working through with our Senate colleagues," Dollar told reporters. "I'm very confident that the goals that both the House and Senate share are for reform in education and moving our state forward and moving our students forward."
The chamber's senior Democrat, Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham County, predicted a "sanitation process" by House Republicans on the Senate budget, particularly on policy changes not directly connected to spending government money. That will lead to a contentious negotiation process, he said.
"We've got a big fight going ahead," said Michaux, who previously held Dollar's budget post during the chamber's Democratic rule.
McCrory said earlier this week that several areas of the Senate budget needed "further dialogue," including the lack of provisions to expand drug treatment courts and provide monetary compensation to victims of North Carolina's previous sterilization program. The Senate also reduced funding for the state's prekindergarten program and provided no pay raises for state employees. McCrory wants to expand pre-K and give 1 percent raises to workers.
Dollar said Republicans will review the governor's wishes and "you'll see a number of the governor's initiatives" in the final budget product.
Like Wednesday's initial vote for the Senate budget, the identical 33-17 margin Thursday was along party lines in favor of Republicans. Senators debated for less than 20 minutes, compared to more than three hours the day before, but hit upon similar themes.
Democrats berated the measure, which would spend $20.6 billion for the year starting July 1 and sets aside several hundred million dollars for a tax plan whose details aren't revealed in the 400-plus page legislation.
Republicans have touted the tax plan separately as a large cut but may be undergoing some changes internally due to criticism about its effect on low-and middle-income families. Democrats said they could have spent the money for the tax cut to restore funding for teachers and teacher assistants and to boost rural economic development.
"This budget was about choices," Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said on the chamber floor. "We will not sit idly by and let it be blamed by fate anymore."
Republicans have argued the budget was hamstrung by expanding Medicaid outlays out of their control, adding more than $1.2 billion to the cost of state government over two years. The bill would eliminate funds for the equivalent of more than 4,500 teacher assistant positions in early grades and for more teachers. Local school districts also would have greater flexibility to spend state public schools as they see fit to avoid other classroom cuts under the budget bill. Many of the teaching positions already were cut during the Great Recession, said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.
"Those teachers have long been gone from the payroll," Tillman said.
Senate Democrats lamented Republicans intercepting the $65 million a year the Golden LEAF Foundation is supposed to receive through the national tobacco settlement and hold back other funds historically used to aid outside economic development organizations. Most of the funds have benefited rural and tobacco-dependent communities. The budget instead creates new state agencies to target rural areas and infrastructure needs.