State lawmakers could break their budget impasse in the coming days, House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday.
Moore said he expected the House and Senate negotiators to have agreed by the end of Thursday on the total amount of money the state budget would spend. High-level negotiations should continue over the weekend, he said, and the leaders of the various budget subcommittees will then begin fine-tuning on Monday.
“We are making progress, having very good conversations with the Senate, trying to move the process along, at the same time standing by the spending priorities that we’ve identified in our budget,” Moore told reporters after Thursday’s House session.
The speaker said he would like to have an agreement in place before traditional schools start later this month, but conceded that it would be difficult to move a budget through both chambers that fast, due to legislative procedures.
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Moore said the House remains firmly opposed to eliminating teacher assistants. The Senate has proposed the TA cuts in order to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes in lower grades. Moore said one solution under discussion is establishing a block grant approach so that local school districts could decide whether to spend their money on teachers or assistants.
But I tell you, our folks are solid: We want those teaching assistants in there.
House Speaker Tim Moore
“But I tell you, our folks are solid: We want those teaching assistants in there,” Moore said.
Senate leader Phil Berger’s office had no comment on Moore’s remarks, but key senators on Wednesday said they were making progress.
The General Assembly has twice extended its budget deadline into the new fiscal year, which began July 1. Stopgap measures are keeping state government funded. Lawmakers now have given themselves until the end of the month to adopt a new spending plan.
Some school administrators are alarmed because they don’t know if they will have teacher assistants or not.
But Moore said under the terms of the resolution that has extended the budget talks, schools have the funding to make those hires. Funding to pay for their continued employment, however, would have to be included in the final budget.
Earlier in the day, about two dozen teacher assistants gathered at the Legislative Building to criticize lawmakers for failing to come up with a budget, leaving them uncertain about their jobs.
“Are politicians lying awake at night like the teacher assistants are, wondering about their jobs?” asked Melinda Zarate of Lexington, communications director of the N.C. Association of Teacher Assistants.
We deserve a General Assembly that works for the people. We deserve a budget.
William Johnston, a Bladen County TA
“Whether our legislators believe it or not, teacher assistants are important,” said William Johnston, a teacher assistant in the Bladen County schools. “We deserve a General Assembly that works for the people. We deserve a budget.”
Moore said budget negotiators have been diligent.
“We really are working – a lot of folks meeting early in morning, late at night trying to get this done,” Moore said.
Moore said Gov. Pat McCrory has been involved, but the immediate focus of negotiations between the House and Senate is agreeing on how much money is available. As of Thursday afternoon, Moore said, the two sides were close to agreeing on that key number.
Once that happens, budget writers can start adding or subtracting line items. The Senate wants a spending increase of 2.7 percent, matching projected population growth and inflation. The House wants a 5 percent increase, which amounts to about $500 million more than the Senate’s plan.
Even if a budget is finalized in the coming week, the legislature still has several major and controversial issues to address before it adjourns for the year: Medicaid, road and building improvement bonds, a jobs incentives and taxes bill, and constitutional amendments capping taxes and spending. Those are time-consuming issues that could easily take the legislature into the middle of September, at least.
The constitutional amendments bill was dormant for five months until suddenly moving last week. The Senate approved it and sent it to the House on Wednesday, along with the the bill that would change the way sales taxes are distributed and increase a job development fund.
Moore said the budget wouldn’t have to include funding for the bonds proposal, but that issue would have to be discussed as part of budget negotiations.