House lawmakers pushed forward their $20.6 billion budget after more than seven hours of debate Wednesday that was punctuated by a back-and-forth on private-school vouchers where the House speaker took the unusual step of participating.
The House approved the budget in a 77-41 vote and will take a final vote on its proposal Thursday.
Republicans praised the budget for its pragmatism, while Democrats said it hurts the middle class and does nothing to reduce unemployment.
“We should have put funding in a real job-creating programs,” said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat. “We cut job creation programs and programs that provide leverage for our communities.”
Rep. Nelson Dollar, a chief budget writer and Cary Republican, said Democrats just want to raise taxes.
“They don’t want to see tax reform; they don’t want to see rates lowered,” Dollar said. “What Republicans want to do, we want to set priorities.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, said the state has some wonderful public schools, but not every school is good.
“The poorest, most at-risk children in this state need an option other than the traditional option they’re receiving,” he said. “If we don’t help them, we lose them.”
The House budget provides $10 million for the next school year to have children from low-income families use taxpayer money to help pay private school tuition.
One of the proposal’s prominent supporters, Rep. Edward Hanes, a Winston-Salem Democrat, triggered the debate by asking for the voucher provisions to be removed from the budget and be allowed to stand on their own as a separate bill.
Tillis has taken a particular interest in vouchers, even sitting in an appropriation subcommittee meeting last Friday until the voucher provision survived a vote to kill it.
Voucher opponents said this was not the time to fund a separate school system when the state wasn’t adequately supporting the public system.
“This will damage seriously urban education without providing rural kids any real options,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat.
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