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The Daily Tar Heel

Legislature Gives Budget Final Approval

Speaker Jim Black labels the bill the most important of the session, which is the longest in state history.

The N.C. Senate passed the budget 26-8 in less than fifteen minutes, but the House spent more than an hour debating budget-related issues, ending in a 63-53 vote.

Rep. Edward Redwine, D-Brunswick, opened the budget discussion, which ended almost three months after the start of the fiscal year, by reassuring legislators about the budget they were about to pass.

"I really don't think any of us should be bashful or timid when voting for this bill," Redwine said. "You can say you were here in a watershed time of the state, and you did the right thing."

Many representatives expressed approval of President Bush's Thursday speech before Congress, but Rep. Joanne Bowie, R-Guilford, expressed concern for what a half-cent sales tax increase included in the budget might mean for citizens in times of war.

"You just don't raise taxes when you have people who are down and may sink lower," she said.

The House vote brought applause from the chamber's members. Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, emphasized the magnitude of the event.

"We just finished the most important bill of this session," Black said.

Senate Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Beaufort, also addressed the unique issues surrounding this year's budget.

"The condition of our financial position made it a more difficult issue this time," Basnight said.

The budget deliberations came on the heels of a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, largely attributed to lower-than-expected economic growth rates.

Basnight said he expects the legislature to be in session until late October or early November dealing with other issues, adding even more days to the longest session in state history.

Black said he was pleased with the final version of the budget.

"I can't imagine how anyone couldn't vote for this," he said. "It took a lot of courage to vote for this budget because some voted based on polls."

Black said the budget protected the state's AAA bond rating -- which was called into question during the summer -- and continued to improve education.

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