Legislative leaders are working out the details of a third extension of their deadline to adopt a state budget, which will take them at least into the middle of September.
Members of both the House and the Senate on Tuesday said budget negotiators are making progress. The main hurdle remains efforts by the House to find cuts that they have been reluctant to make.
A week ago, both chambers and Gov. Pat McCrory announced a compromise had been reached on a total spending number of $21.74 billion. That amounts to about $415 million less than what the House had proposed in its budget.
House negotiators have said that makes it difficult to pay for all they hoped for, such as a 2 percent raise for state employees, additional money for teacher pay and protecting teacher assistants’ jobs. The Senate wants to put money into hiring more teachers and making classes smaller.
Democrats on Tuesday needled the budget negotiators and the governor. The Democratic Party sent out a news release criticizing the GOP majority for dragging its feet, as did a group of moderate, pro-business legislators calling themselves the Main Street Democrats.
“It’s unsettling that a super majority Republican General Assembly and a Republican governor cannot do their most important job, which is to provide a budget for state government,” said Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte.
Democratic Whip Sen. Terry Van Duyn of Asheville on the Senate floor recited the costs of not coming up with a budget: 56 days have passed since the end of the fiscal year, 28 days spent in session, at a reported $42,000 for each weekday, amounting to more than $1 million. Meanwhile, schools remain unsure about having enough money to keep teacher assistants employed, she said.
“How are negotiations going?” Van Duyn asked. “Do we need to pull names for Secret Santa?”
That brought Majority Whip Sen. Jerry Tillman of Archdale to his feet to say schools have enough money, provided for in the first resolution that extended the deadline, to hire teachers and provide raises. The only short-term unknowns, he said, are funding for teacher assistants and driver education, which he said most school districts will pay for on their own.
“What you’re really asking is why are we still here?” Tillman told Van Duyn. “We’re asking the same thing. There’s a problem but it ain’t over here.”
After the session, Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Jacksonville who is one of the chief budget-writers, declined to place the blame with the other chamber.
“I’m not going to throw the House under the bus,” he said. “Negotiations are always tough. I think we’re close.”
Brown and Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Dunn, agreed that the third continuing resolution will likely extend the deadline into mid-September. Lewis noted that procedural matters alone will add several days to the process once a budget is agreed upon and voted on by the two chambers.
The House has cleared its calendar of bills for most of the week, and the Senate has only voted on one bill. Lewis said it’s possible the week could extend to an unusual Friday session, but he thought there probably would not be votes on that day.