RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – With a little more rancor and complaint about what was in or out of those hundreds of pages, the North Carolina House completed its pre-Easter goal of approving its version of a biennial budget and sending it over to the Senate.

After another six amendments were considered – with five approved mostly to clean up language – Republicans controlled the passage, 78-38, on Thursday morning during the bill’s third reading before adjourning for Easter break until April 18.

Nine or 10 Democrats – depending upon how you count the recently-party-shifted Tricia Cotham – voted for the bill, and four members didn’t vote. Dem supporters included Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-High Point) and Rep. Mike Wray (D-Halifax), who with Cotham had skipped a vote last week and allowed the GOP to override a veto by Gov Roy Cooper on a pistol permit bill.

In the Senate, House Bill 259 will be met by a planned reduction in state income because of lower rates in future years for individual income tax, and its nuances will be negotiated by a conference committee from both chambers before the House gets another crack and sends the plan to Cooper, who has said he doesn’t care for this first draft.

This final vote followed a similar process on Wednesday when members considered a much longer list of amendments and ultimately approved in a pretty-much-party-line vote the foundation of this spending plan.

State Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth) talks to reporters in the House chambers.

“I appreciate the spirited discussion yesterday,” Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), its architect, said on Thursday. “It’s a great budget, a very sound financial plan that puts us in a good position going into conference with the Senate.”

Lambeth outlined some of the key details of the plan that includes raises for teachers and state employees and redistributes funds to come from Medicaid expansion, decisions that he said the document’s authors thought best served residents, decisions that he agreed were hard.

He encouraged members to read the details in the budget to look at the “tidbits of information that is overwhelmingly positive for the people of North Carolina. … Look for the good stuff.

“I encourage you over the next week to spend a little more time with that document, because we will have to go into conference, and we will have to make hard decisions. I hope we get some of our stuff in there, but it will be difficult.”

It was that position – the need for unanimity in support as a bargaining point – that drew the most ire from many who spoke against the budget – all Democrats – in the final debate on Thursday. They said Republicans were asking them to vote for the bill to help in negotiations but not always listening to what they wanted in the budget and including their input.

“The comment that we need a good vote to be able to negotiate with the Senate stuck with me,” Rep. Wesley Harris (D-Mecklenburg). “We could pass a budget that got 120 votes in here. That would put us in a good position with the Senate. But the process didn’t allow that.

“This doesn’t have to be just House Republicans and the Senate Republicans, particularly if we want to negotiate with Senate. … You don’t need Democrats to govern. You need our vote to negotiate with Senate. You need our vote, but we were excluded from the process.”

Education and childcare

Others who spoke against the budget, including Rep. Amber Baker (D-Forsyth), addressed what they felt were inadequate raises for teachers and the inclusion of opportunity scholarships (vouchers) for higher-income families. Another amendment to delay that plan was defeated on Thursday.

Rep. Julie von Haefen (D-Wake) said the budget “includes very little for young children and their families. … We should be focused on prioritizing funding that makes their lives easier. Especially with childcare.

“We brag about being a great state for business … lack of child care is the No. 1 reason why people are unemployed. Parents in every industry rely on childcare to be able to work. The childcare industry is at a crisis.”

She cited the low average pay and the absence in the budget of funds to offset the pandemic-related $300 million grants that childcare centers had used to remain open.

“With federal funding coming to an end any day now, this budget puts childcare on a precarious path,” she said.

State. Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), who co-chairs a bipartisan caucus pushing a series of bills to expand services and address educational needs for preschool children, said the budget included some of the five bills she had backed.

“The House budget includes the TriShare Model and the increase in child subsidy rate,” Clemmons said. “We will continue to advocate for Compensation Grant extension as the process continues.”

Rep. David Willis (R-Union), though, said that “we do have a crisis [in childcare] … within this [budget] there are pieces that are going to do historic things. …. There is still work to be done. We will continue to do that in the conference process.”

Need for compromise

District 54 Rep. Robert Reives (D-Chatham)

Rep. Robert Reives (R-Chatham), the House Democratic leader, returned to that conference with the Senate and how it would work in his final summation before the vote.

“While we were voting [Wednesday], the Senate already is out with a plan to cut personal income tax,” he said. “What we don’t tell voters is that you get to save $100 in income, but you are going to lose $500 in services.

“What we are doing is we continue to shift the burden to pay for the services we have to provide. More and more they are dropped on working people.”

He said he didn’t have a problem with wealth, but he reminded that with wealth comes responsibility, which includes listening to the needs of others.

“I know inclusion can get to be a bad word sometime,” he said. “It’s inclusion because we are a deliberative body. A lot of people [in the House] who can give information, but they don’t do that because of the letter behind their name. What can we do to make this better? That’s all folks are looking for. A voice. An opportunity.

“I’d love to send a budget to the Senate that says these are the things we value as the House. Not a perfect budget … a perfect compromise. That is achievable. We did it for two years. Our numbers have changed now, and I feel like we are going back.”