Ten hours after the day’s session began, the N.C. House on Wednesday passed its version of a $20.3 billion state budget, 73-46.
The marathon debate in the House was often contentious and as midnight loomed members of both parties traded rhetorical barbs, with Democrats attacking the plan as shortchanging key public services, such as education.
“This is a very bad budget for North Carolina and continues to take North Carolina backwards,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney (D-Orange).
Republicans defended the proposal as the best budget possible during difficult economic times.
“It lives within our means and doesn’t attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the working families of this state,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake).
The back-and-forth over the budget pulled in pop cultural references at times, with a recent blockbuster film serving as a metaphor for the bill.
“Last year’s budget and this year’s budget remind me of probably one of the most popular movies that was recently filmed in North Carolina, ‘The Hunger Games,’” said Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Wake). “Because what it does is it makes people worse off and then it pits them against each other.”
At a point near the end of the budget debate, Rep. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort) used his time at the microphone to laugh at Democrats, who he accused of having left the newly elected Republican majority in 2011 with a steep budget shortfall.
“Democrats had been in control of the General Assembly for well over 100 years,” Cook said. “When we came in, there was a $2 billion deficit.”
Cook’s laughter drew a protest from Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake) who asked Cook to “end his laughing fit and yield to a question.” When Cook refused to yield, Martin replied, “You may continue to laugh like a fool then.”
Hear Cook’s remarks:
When the final budget vote arrived at about 11 p.m. Wednesday, five Democrats broke ranks to join a unified Republican majority in supporting the spending plan. They were the same five Democrats who supported the GOP budget last year. As was the case then, their support would give Republicans enough votes to override a potential veto by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
But first the budget goes to the Republican-controlled state Senate, which could make its own changes beginning next week. The final budget needs to be in place by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.