House lawmakers Wednesday night gave their tentative approval of the proposed $22.2 billion state budget. Debates over these spending bills tend to be hard fought partisan affairs. But a strange thing happened with this budget, the House seemed to be hit with a bout of congeniality.
These days, the bar for what is considered a truly bipartisan bill is pretty low. But the house budget was truly passed in a bipartisan way. The vote was 103-12. Thirty Democrats voted for the budget, the most since Republicans took over the chamber in 2011.
Representative Marvin Lucas of Cumberland County was one of the Democrats who voted for the bill. "Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to commend all of the members from both parties who helped craft this bill," he said on the House floor adding, "overall the document does a lot of good things."
The budget would give teachers an average raise of 4 percent focused mostly on mid-career educators. It provides a 1.6 percent cost of living increase in benefits for state retirees. It fully funds student enrollment in all public schools and increases the standard income tax deduction. Despite efforts to add amendments to the bill, it also keeps a sales tax cap in place for luxury boats and private airplanes and continues funding the state’s portion of the I-77 toll lane project.
Debate revolved around the $300 million Republicans want to put into the state’s rainy day fund. House Minority Larry Hall, argued that money could do much more good being spent rather than being saved. He used a home repair analogy to make his point.
"So our roof has a hole in it, and we’re putting all of our money in the bank. That’s fine. We’re not going to repair the roof, we’re going to wait until we have to replace the roof."
Here's how Republican Nelson Dollar, the chief budget writer in the House responded.
"Whenever the next recession comes we do want to make sure we do have sufficient funds so that we are not faced with choices of greater tax increases or cuts to critical services in this state."
On Thursday, the House will hold its final vote on the budget. It’s expected to easily pass. Then it heads over to the Senate for consideration.