RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The House tentatively agreed Tuesday night to a $19.3 billion state government budget for next year mostly penned by Republicans that would let a pair of temporary tax increases expire as scheduled and received Democratic support just hours after Gov. Beverly Perdue spoke to bill opponents.
The chamber voted 72-47 in favor of the measure following nearly 10 hours of debate and about 40 amendments. Five Democrats joined all Republicans in attendance in support of the two-year budget bill — a significant development because that margin would be enough to withstand a potential veto by Perdue, a Democrat.
A budget bill for the next two years is still a long way from getting to Perdue's desk. The Senate will have to pass its own version after the House holds a final vote Wednesday. Then the two chambers, both in Republican hands for the first time in more than 140 years, would have to work out a compromise.
The Democratic defections could provide Republicans some leverage in upcoming negotiations with Perdue leading to the start of the new fiscal year July 1.
"I think the governor will realize that we are serious about our pledge to balance the budget" without the additional taxes, said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett. "She'll have to take note of that."
GOP budget writers had to close a roughly $2.5 billion gap between projected revenues and expenses for the coming year, in part by spending $600 million less than what Perdue proposed in February. Republicans would cut $900 million more in the big spending categories of public education and health care than Perdue did in large part because they were resolute in ending higher sales and income taxes that would eliminate $1.4 billion in revenues when they expire this year.
"You know what's not in it? Tax rate increases," House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, said during the debate.
Perdue was across the street from the Legislative Building at a rally of more than 2,000 teachers and their supporters as the House wrapped up votes on the amendments to the budget plan. Perdue, dressed in red like most of the crowd at the North Carolina Association of Educators event, urged protesters to call legislators. Perdue has criticized the Republican plan, which fellow Democrats estimate could eliminate more than 20,000 government and education jobs.
"Don't worry about this mess in Raleigh," Perdue said. "There are people all over this state who understand how important you are, and the work that you do."
Perdue's budget proposal kept in place three-quarters of a cent sales tax increase approved by the Democratic majority in 2009 to close a budget gap at the height of the Great Recession but that is supposed to expire June 30. Instead, Republicans created a plan that will be devastating to public education, the environment and the state's business climate, Minority Leader Joe Hackney said.
"It was your duty to protect education as well and you have not done it," Hackney, D-Orange, told Republican colleagues. "Quite simply, this budget does not meet the needs for a growing and dynamic state."
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said this week the Democrats are exaggerating the number of job losses. He said retirements, vacancies, turnover and flexibility for local school districts and University of North Carolina campuses would reduce actual job losses to fewer than 7,000.
The five Democrats who joined the GOP majority are from eastern counties are part of the party's conservative wing. They are Reps. Jim Crawford of Granville County; Bill Brisson of Bladen County; Dewey Hill of Columbus County; Bill Owens of Pasquotank County; and Tim Spear of Washington County.
Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said he's more worried about whether defections will continue when the final House-Senate compromise plan is hammered out.
"It's a question of what happens with the final vote," Michaux said.
The final vote came a few minutes after some people in the gallery were removed by police after unfurling a banner and starting a chant about education. Three people detained by police were identified as high school and college students.
During the first several hours of debate, the Republican majority pushed back several Democratic amendments that would have removed or weakened provisions that would bar state funds to pay for elective abortions for state workers and their dependents on the state employee health insurance plan. They also rejected efforts to restore state grants and contracts for Planned Parenthood.
Advocates opposed to the budget held rallies throughout the day.
A group arguing that spending cuts alone will mean layoffs for thousands of state employees and takes the state back in time.
Protesters rode around the Legislative Building in a horse-drawn cart after arguing their point wearing bowler, flapper and tri-corner hats. A handful of state-funded prison chaplains came to Raleigh from up to 200 miles away to argue their jobs are too valuable to eliminate. Twenty-five of their jobs would be eliminated in the House plan.
At the late afternoon education association rally, children with balloons and carrying marching band instruments mingled with older women. Placards indicated what happens when educators get fired up. "Don't make me use my teacher voice," one said.
Rally participant Denise Kendall is a teaching assistant who helps manage a classroom of 27 kindergarten students at C.C. Spaulding Elementary School in Durham. The House budget would eliminate assistants in second and third grades, but additional cuts would be required of local school districts.
"If I lose my job, what am I going to do?" Kendall asked.