LUMBERTON — State representatives whose districts include part of Robeson County say the House budget approved early Friday morning is much better for the county and state than a proposed Senate budget.
“This is not a budget I like completely,” said Rep. Ken Goodman. “But by the criteria I use to rate it — including it doesn’t take away anything from anyone, there are no tax increases, retirees and state workers got something and we are funding the pre-k program — in general I think it is OK.”
The budget includes $10 million for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke to renovate West Hall, a former dormitory that will be transformed into office space, and $2.5 million for Robeson Community College to provide workforce training for high need fields.
Goodman, Garland Pierce, and Charles Graham, all Democrats, were among 13 Democrats who joined Republicans in support of the $22.9 billion plan. Robeson County’s fourth House representative Brendan Jones, a Republican, also voted in favor of the budget proposal.
This week, selected members from each chamber begin meeting to work out differences and come up with a final budget that can be submitted to Gov. Roy Cooper to be signed into law. Cooper is a Democrat who has submitted his own budget, but with Republicans with veto-proof majorities in both chambers, the governor’s veto pen is without ink.
According to Robeson County representatives, the leadership in each chamber would like to have a compromise budget finished in time for the budget to take effect July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.
“The significant thing about our budget is that it is bi-partisan, not like the party-line budget proposal of the Senate,” Graham said. “Several Democrats joined the Republicans to come up with this compromise bi-partisan plan. I hope that means something.”
According to Pierce, he voted at first against the budget because he had some questions that he wanted answered. But when the final vote was taken just after midnight Thursday, he was satisfied enough to cast his vote in favor of the House proposal, he said.
Jones on Friday said that under Republican leadership, the House has developed a budget that along with certain parts of the Senate’s proposal will best serve the interests of all North Carolinians.
“We (House) have a good comprehensive budget,” Jones said. “Our budget makes more sense when you look at the numbers than the governor’s.”
Pierce said that the House and Senate have no disagreement about how much the budget should be, $22.9 billion, an increase of 2.5 percent over the current fiscal year. The problem, Pierce said, is coming to a compromise of how the money should be spent.
“The horse trading begins now. The real work starts,” Pierce said. “We really now are starting all over again.”
Jones also stressed that the the budget process is far from over.
“There’s going to be a lot of negotiations,” he said.
All of the Democrats say that the House budget is more friendly toward North Carolinian making an average income than is the Senate’s.
“The Senate has a bold tax plan and wants to cut taxes by $1 billion,” said Pierce. “The House would cut taxes by $350 million, but would allocate more money toward such things as education.”
Graham, a former educator, said that the House budget includes more money for early childhood education and special education. More money is also appropriated for recruitment and training of science, technology, engineering and math teachers, he said.
The budget calls for across the board teachers pay increases of 3.3 percent, which Graham says will help the state retain quality teachers, as well as pay increases for state workers and retirees.
Robeson County legislators were successful in getting some pet projects into the budget. These included Pierce and Goodman getting funding for a farmers market in Laurinburg, and Graham getting $25,000 for a statewide grant program to develop beehives.
Graham also shepherded through the House an amendment to the budget that appropriates $5 million for Tier 1 counties to make infrastructure improvements to existing sites that are being eyed by industry as a place to locate.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.