7/25/13 Lawmakers OK $20.6 billion plan

Lawmakers OK $20.6 billion plan
The Associated Press The Times-News 7/25/13  
Reprinted with permission. 

   RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers neared the end of a year of dramatic changes in policies and priorities on Wednesday with their approval of a $20.6 billion, two-year budget.

   The Senate passed the plan 32-17. The House voted 65-53. The General Assembly’s annual session is scheduled to conclude this week, returning next spring to adjust the second year of the spending plan.

   The budget was written by Republicans, who won large majorities in both chambers in last year’s elections and also acquired an ally in GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. It is the first time Republicans have controlled both the legislative and executive branches of state government since 1870.

   House Speaker Thom Tillis, a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, took the unusual step of debating the legislation after criticism that it shortchanges the poor and middle class.

   “This is about a different means to the same end. What I do know is that prior means didn’t work,” said Tillis, R-Mecklenburg. “Does anybody really think that I came down to this Legislature so that we couldn’t take care of people who were helpless and need the state’s help? That’s absurd.”

   GOP lawmakers said they acted responsibly by passing a budget only 2 percent greater than the $20.2 billion lawmakers allocated last year. The spending plan fully funds state pensions and the state health insurance plan, covers spiraling Medicaid costs, matches expected classroom demands from elementary schools to universities and offers $10 million to compensate victims of the state’s now-defunct forced-sterilization program, legislative leaders said. That’s in addition to about $524 million in planned tax cuts over the next two years that GOP lawmakers predict will spur new business investment and job creation.