Key legislators worked over the Labor Day weekend to finish writing a state budget, anticipating that the spending plan that is more than two months overdue may be ready for publication later this week.
Legislators said Monday that they’ve settled some of the questions in the way of an agreement on spending $21.7 billion this year. Budget writers worked most of the weekend, taking a break on Sunday but returning on Labor Day.
House Speaker Tim Moore said he hoped the legislature would “have a budget that people can see” by Wednesday or Thursday. Senate leader Phil Berger said it was possible a budget could surface this week “if things continue to move.”
The legislature missed the July 1 budget deadline and has adopted three temporary spending plans while negotiations tried to find agreement. The third stop-gap budget expires Sept. 18.
House rules require that a budget be available 72 hours before a vote, so members can read it.
Two of the major obstacles to completing the budget revolve around education - paying for teacher assistants and driver’s education.
Senate Republicans proposed phasing out funding for thousands of teacher assistant jobs, in exchange for hiring more teachers. The House wanted to keep paying for teacher assistants. The Senate had wanted to end state funding for driver’s education, while the House wanted to continue subsidizing it.
While teacher assistant jobs are frequently on the line in state budget negotiations, the lack of an agreement has left those school workers unsure of their fate for longer than usual. Some school districts, including Wake, suspended their driver’s education programs when state funding ran out.
Senate budget writers offered as part of the negotiations to pay for the assistants, but they want to prevent school districts from spending that money on other things as they have in the past.
Moore said driver’s education “is still being negotiated.”
Rep. Chuck McGrady, a budget writer from Hendersonville, said Monday budget writers have agreed to funding for teacher assistants, but that work still needed to be done on related special provision. The state budget includes both appropriations and directions on how money is to be spent.
“I’m expecting there will be sufficient money in the budget to make sure no teacher assistants are laid off by the General Assembly,” McGrady said.
Sen. Brent Jackson, a budget writer from Autryville, said it remained the Senate’s intention to provide money for teacher assistants, but to restrict its use to only those employees.
Jackson said 95 percent of the money items have been negotiated, but legislators had not yet worked through the budget provisions.
The big items and harder problems are left for Berger and Moore to resolve, and the chamber leaders said they were being handed issues to work on, though they declined to provide details.
“I’d like to be more specific, but it’s probably best for me not to be,” Berger said.