RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Republican-led House gave initial approval Thursday night to North Carolina government budget adjustments that favor raising lottery profits to raise teacher pay and Gov. Pat McCrory's spending recommendations more than the Senate's rival plan.
Following more than 30 amendments and nearly seven hours of debate, eight Democrats joined all but one Republican present in supporting the $21.1 billion proposal for the second year of the two-year state budget approved last summer.
The budget's anchor is an average 5 percent pay raise for all public school teachers, who have received one pay increase since 2008 and whose salaries last ranked at 46th nationwide. Republicans have been anxious to raise teacher salaries, particularly among early-career teachers who will get the largest percentage increases, during an election year.
The GOP budget "is sound, it is responsible and it is focused on our highest priorities," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The pay increase is more in line with McCrory's proposal unveiled last month but less than the average 11 percent raise offered by the Senate, which directed more classroom cuts than the House to pay for their increase in their budget approved two weeks ago.
The Senate also required veteran teachers to give up tenure for big raises. The House didn't, but instead located most of the money for the raises by demanding the North Carolina Education Lottery to come up with another $106 million for the state.
The move gave heartburn to both conservatives and liberals who are opposed to gambling because it also allows the lottery to spend twice as much on advertising to reach that goal. Democrats who voted against the plan said the teacher pay raise wasn't comprehensive enough and depends on bringing in money from getting more people to play games of chance.
"Gambling is addictive. I believe the folks out there who play the lottery could get addicted," said Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, who also voted against the bill creating the lottery in 2005. "Let's go back to the drawing board and find a better way to pay for this."
Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes and another budget co-chairman, said he didn't support the original lottery law either but pointed out no one tried Thursday to file an amendment to scale back the lottery money. The unadjusted two-year budget already set aside $220 million to pay for teacher salaries before the upward adjustment.
"We are dependent on those dollars whether you like it or not," Holloway said. In a concession to social conservatives, the budget bill includes new lottery restrictions on advertising content.
Rep. Deborah Conrad, R-Forsyth, who raised concerns publicly this week about the lottery advertising increase, was the only Republican voting no as a House budget bill was approved by the largest margin since the GOP took over the chamber in 2011.
A final House vote was expected Friday morning, followed by negotiations starting next week with Senate Republicans. Legislators want to get a final spending plan to McCrory's desk before the new fiscal year. McCrory prefers the House plan to the Senate in many areas.
The House budget differs from the Senate by directing the State Board of Education to operate two online, or "virtual' charter schools to potentially thousands of students. The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program, which gives college scholarships to students in exchange for working as educators, also would be revived in the House plan.
The chambers also don't agree on changes to Medicaid and McCrory's efforts to overhaul the federal-state health insurance program. The Senate earmarks $206 million more than the House on Medicaid expenditures next year and rejects McCrory's Medicaid reform plan.
In addition to teacher pay raises, the House wants to give $1,000 salary increase to nearly all other state employees — slightly higher than what McCrory and senators wanted. The House also gives five extra vacation days to workers.
Several Democratic amendments were defeated, including one that would have ended funding for a program set to begin next fall giving taxpayer-funded scholarships for children in poor families to attend private of religious schools. The program is being challenged in court. Republicans also stopped amendments to prevent all or portions of the State Bureau of Investigation from being transferred out of the Attorney General's Office to McCrory's Department of Public Safety.
GOP lawmakers passed other amendments, including one directing the public safety department to create regulations for large commercial dog breeders. McCrory and his wife, Ann, have sought similar regulations in separate House legislation that's been stuck in the Senate.
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