Under the Dome

Democrats criticize speedy NC Senate budget process

The N.C. Senate’s budget proposal will likely get four days of debate before it gets a final vote – a speedy timetable that’s drawing fire from Democrats who worry the spending plan’s sweeping policy changes won’t be adequately vetted.

Top Senate Republicans have spent weeks working on the budget behind closed doors. Highlights of the plan were first announced in a news conference Monday afternoon, with detailed documents released and explained during appropriations subcommittee meetings a few hours later.

Some of those Monday meetings took place in tiny committee rooms without audio feeds available online – meaning some attendees crowded the halls outside the rooms trying to hear the discussion.

And on Tuesday, the budget bill is scheduled to pass through three committees before it’s due on the Senate floor Wednesday. Senate leader Phil Berger said the first vote is expected Wednesday, with a final vote on Thursday.

Democrats say that’s not enough time to gather feedback. “We’re not going to have any opportunity for public comment,” said Sen. Terry Van Duyn, an Asheville Democrat. “I would really like to hear from a hospital administrator. I’d like to hear from teachers about what it means to them. I’d like to hear from university administrators about what it means to them.

“They don’t get a seat at the table, and I think that’s kind of scary.”

The haste likely stems from a looming deadline: The legislature is supposed to pass a budget into law by June 30, when the current fiscal year ends. The Senate’s schedule leaves little more than a week for House and Senate leaders to work out their differences in a conference committee.

That might not happen by June 30, which would mean both chambers would have to pass a temporary budget to keep government running after July 1.

The Senate’s process has a tighter timeline than the House, which held lengthy subcommittees to consider amendments about a week before the final vote. Chris Fitzsimon of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch questioned why the spending plans were completed before the subcommittees met.

“Must have missed Senate subcommittee meetings to come up with the budget and actually hear from the public they represent,” he tweeted.