Despite predictions Thursday morning that a budget deal could be hours away, negotiators left the Legislative Building around 6 p.m. without an agreement.
Talks will continue Friday, Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters. “I remain optimistic that there’s a way for us to resolve things,” he said. “Whether we will or not really depends on the positions people take, but we’re still talking.”
Berger wouldn’t say what disagreements are holding up the deal. “We have made good progress on a number of issues today, but there are still a couple that are hanging us up,” he said. “I’d prefer not to get into the specifics of what we’ve resolved and what’s still out there.”
Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Tim Moore had a more positive outlook on the talks. “We’ve narrowed down most of the issues in controversy,” he said. “Sen. Berger and I both hope that we’re able to have a final agreement by the end of the day.”
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By late afternoon, Moore and Berger were in a small, windowless conference room with their lead budget negotiators and legislative staffers. Someone brought food from Chick-fil-A, and a staffer brought in his baby for a quick visit and morale boost. But while talks had stretched to midnight earlier this week, everyone went home Thursday in time for dinner.
Moore highlighted some of the agenda Thursday morning. “We’ve got some education issues that we’re working on,” he said. “There’s a few things that haven’t caught much media attention.”
As of Thursday morning, final agreements remained elusive on teacher assistant funding and driver’s education. Moore said driver’s ed will definitely be funded this school year, but a plan to use fines and asset forfeitures to pay for the program next year was still causing disagreement.
If no deal is reached by the weekend, legislators could have to extend their Sept. 18 deadline, when the current temporary budget expires. Once negotiators finish their work, staff will need a day or two to draw up the bill, and the House rules require the bill to be publicly available for at least three days before a vote.
“I think the timeline gets a little more difficult the longer we continue to talk,” Berger said Thursday evening.