The state legislature approved the $27.9 billion Republican-written budget Thursday with bipartisan votes and by comfortable margins.
The budget passed 84-28 in the House and 38-9 in the Senate in preliminary votes.
Republican budget writers said their plan deals head-on with inflation and prepares the state for a recession.
“No one can predict what can happen with the economy in the year ahead,” said Rep. Dean Arp, a Monroe Republican. “We will continue to make responsible adjustments, apply the same fiscally conservative principles, an act with the same economic discipline that has put us in a strong financial position today.”
State economists said in May that North Carolina was going to bring in $6.2 billion more in tax revenue over two years than was estimated last year, and the state is building huge reserves.
Democrats said budget writers should have put more of the state’s hefty surplus toward bigger state employee and teacher raises. State employee wages continue to fall behind private sector salaries and are not high enough to lure new hires to vacant positions, they said.
The budget give state employees 1% more than the 2.5% they were already slated to get. The State Employees Association of North Carolina was expecting more. The budget includes raises for teachers that average 4.2%, with a range of 2.5% to 7%.
“This budget fails to help families keep up with inflation,” said Rep. Brandon Lofton, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.
It fails to address the shortages of school counselors, nurses, and psychologists, does not provide additional salary support for law enforcement and public health workers that Democrats wanted, he said, it does not include Medicaid expansion.
“We have $30.7 billion available to put to use on behalf of North Carolina families,” Lofton said. “They’re counting on us to do better. And my hope is that we find a way to do so.”
Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh framed his argument around a Bank of America ad that promoted its $22 an hour minimum wage.
New North Carolina teachers will make less than people working full-time at an entry level job at Bank of America, Blue said. And starting jobs at the bank don’t require a college degree, certification, or college loan debt, and don’t come with the challenges of being on the front line of the culture wars, he said.
“We ought to be thinking about things in a different way as we’re deciding how to allocate all of the resources that are available to us,” he said.
Legislators are set to take their final budget votes Friday before sending the plan to Gov. Roy Cooper.