The Senate passed its $22.9 billion budget bill for the coming biennium in a Thursday evening vote and a final vote on Friday just after 3 a.m.
The Thursday vote fell down along party lines in a 34-15 vote with only Sen. Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) absent from the chamber and passed on third reading in a 32-15 vote, also along party lines, with Sens. Tamara Barringer (R-Wake), Tarte, and Jim Davis (R-Cherokee) absent from the vote.
The Senate passed the bill on second reading around 7:30 p.m. Thursday relatively quickly, voting on the bill after about three hours of debate on the floor. But legislators made up for it with Friday’s session opening just after Midnight and taking the final vote shortly after 3 a.m.
On Thursday eight amendments to the budget were passed which all passed in unanimous votes on the Senate floor.
Democrats also filed several bills that would have increased the personal income tax, the business income tax, or both, during session Friday morning but overwhelmingly did not support bringing the levels back to that of when Democrats were in charge of the House, Senate and the Governor’s Mansion.
An amendment to reset the state personal and business income taxes and the sales tax to the 2009 levels was filed by Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Bladen), though he then voted against it.
What is interesting about the amendment is that only five Democrats voted for the amendment, when Democrats in the Senate have repeatedly lambasted Republicans for the tax cuts of the past few years that they say have gone too far.
Four amendments were tabled during the debate Friday.
The approved budget bill will increase spending by 2.5 percent over last year’s budget and will represent a 3.75 percent increase over actual spending in the previous year.
Legislators say the budget focuses on the Senate’s commitments for the state by including $600 million more for public education, funding to continue the Senate teacher pay increase plan leading to an average 3.7 percent raise for teachers in the next year and a 9.5 percent average increase in the following year.
The budget also directs about $200 million in the first year toward compensation increases to state employees and also includes money for school principal pay raises.
The budget also passed with the Senate’s $1 billon tax cut plan which is intended to cut taxes for the middle class by reducing the personal income tax, increasing standard deductions and also adjusting many other portions of the tax code.
The budget also includes $150 million for Hurricane Matthew disaster relief and an allotment of $363 million to the state Savings Reserve Fund to prepare for future disasters and emergencies.
This will bring the fund to its highest level in the history of the state at $8.63 billon.
“It is telling that the only criticisms we’ve heard about this budget are it ‘doesn’t spend enough’ and ‘gives taxpayers back too much of their own money,’” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said. “But rather than indulge the old tax-and-spend impulses that dragged our state into a $2.5 billion budget deficit and one of the nation’s worst tax climates, we are spending prudently on core priorities, saving carefully to protect against the next recession and returning a portion of the tax surplus back to the middle-class families and job-creators who paid it. I am proud this budget delivers nearly $1 billion in tax relief, continues our multiple-year effort to dramatically increase teacher pay and improve education outcomes, and helps rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Matthew – while bolstering our state’s rainy day fund to its highest total ever.”
The Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, May 16.