House and Senate budget negotiators said they’ll be working through Labor Day weekend to reach a final agreement by next week.
“Those who are working on the budget should plan to see what Raleigh's like on the weekend,” House Speaker Tim Moore said as Wednesday’s session wrapped up.
The two chambers still haven’t reached an agreement on funding teacher assistants and driver’s education programs. The Senate offered earlier this week to fund both – but only if the House agreed to give up funding for other programs and ban school districts from using teacher assistant dollars for other purposes.
“We’re very pleased that the Senate has agreed to fund the teaching assistants, we think that’s very important,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, the House’s senior budget negotiator. “We’re glad they’ve come over to our position on that, but the details are still being worked out.”
During the 2014-2015 school year, districts transferred $48 million of $376 million in teacher assistant funds, much of it to hire more classroom teachers. TA money has also gone toward other uses in recent years, including $500,000 for transportation in Johnston County and $162,000 in Wake County for materials and supplies.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said that’s part of the reason for his chamber’s proposal to cut about 5,000 teacher assistants and instead reduce elementary class sizes by adding 2,000 classroom teachers.
“We give them the funding, and then all of a sudden (House negotiators) go back to the position we were at all along – that because of flexibility, TAs aren’t getting funded anyway,” Brown said. “It’s kind of funny how it’s come back around.”
Brown said negotiators working on health and human services funding have reached a tentative agreement. Senate leaders were set to review that agreement Wednesday afternoon, he said, adding that the spending package will likely include elements of a Medicaid overhaul.
The two chambers are also finalizing spending packages for justice and public safety as well as transportation. In transportation, Brown said negotiations have yielded agreement on Division of Motor Vehicles fee hikes. The House wanted a hike of about 30 percent, while the Senate had proposed 20 percent.
“I think closer to the 30 percent range is where they settled,” Brown said. “It does generate a lot more for transportation funding.”
After Brown’s comments were published, Senate leader Phil Berger issued a statement indicating the DMV fee isn’t settled quite yet.
“While the Senate is considering Rep. Dollar’s offer to have the transportation budget increase DMV fees by 30 percent, we must first make sure the House agrees to cut taxes by more than that dollar amount – to ensure North Carolinians are keeping more of their money in their pockets overall,” Berger said in the statement.
Brown says he hopes the remaining issues will be resolved in time to release a full budget compromise next week.
“We think it’s important that we try to finish with just about all of it this weekend, so there’s no crunch at the end,” he said.
The current temporary budget, known as a continuing resolution, is keeping state government running at last year’s spending levels until Sept. 18. It’s the third such resolution as budget delays drag into a third month, and legislative leaders hope it will be the last extension.