The Pulse

NC Senate budget proposal receives bipartisan support, though Democrats’ amendments are sidelined

By: - May 18, 2023 6:00 am
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The Senate on Wednesday took a crucial 36-13 vote to pass its version of the next state budget, with seven Democrats joining Republicans in pushing the spending plan to its next phase. 

After another vote scheduled for today, Senate and House negotiators will write a compromise version of the budget that the legislature will pass and send to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. 

The House passed its proposed $29.8 billion budget last month. 

As the Senate moved to a vote Wednesday, Senate Republicans sidelined more than a dozen amendments Democrats proposed either by tabling them or substituting Republican amendments that often made minor changes to wording. 

Among the budget changes Democrats attempted were a requirement for fathers to pay for mothers’ pregnancy-related expenses, establishment of a right to contraception, and a cut of more than $300 million from the private school voucher program over two years, with that money going to community college scholarships. 

Sen. Mutjaba Mohammed, a Mecklenburg Democrat, tried to remove sections of the budget that would allow legislative leaders to appoint 10 special Superior Court judges and change how members of the three-judge panels that hear legal challenges to the General Assembly’s redistricting plans get those assignments.

As it is now, the governor nominates special Superior Court judges.

The Supreme Court Chief Justice appoints two of the Superior Court judges to three judge panels, and the resident Superior Court Judge in Wake County presides. 

The budget would change that to have the Supreme Court Chief Justice appoint all three judges. 

Among those judges the Chief Justice could choose would be those appointed by legislative leaders, Mohammed said. 

“Such a move to exert control and manipulate our courts is wrong,” Mohammed said. “These changes are clearly aimed at consolidating power within the General Assembly.” 

To get to a budget compromise, House and Senate budget negotiators will have to reach an agreement on raises for teachers and state employees. The House budget was considerably more generous, giving teachers average raises of 10% over two years and state employees 7.5% raises over the two year budget-cycle. 

The Senate has 4.5% average teacher raises and 5% state employee raises over two years. The Senate plan would bring beginning teacher salaries from $37,000 to $39,000 a year for the next school year. 

The Senate would also require hospitals in larger counties negotiate $125 million in savings for the state employee health plan in 2026 or lose their licenses.

Republicans sidelined an amendment Wednesday that would have removed that provision. 

In an email this week, NC Healthcare Association spokeswoman Cynthia Charles said the provision would put healthcare at risk for more than 10 million people and “looks like government intrusion into private business, which we believe is bad for North Carolina and a dangerous precedent.”

The hospitals are ready to work with the state employee health plan and its beneficiaries to “reduce costs through care management of chronic conditions and enabling healthier lifestyles.  This requires empowering and supporting those who are responsible for delivering care, rather than creating additional bureaucracy and administrative burden that would empower insurance companies versus care givers,” Charles wrote.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.