Under the Dome

State budget talks may be entering final stages

The state House’s senior budget writer said Wednesday that House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed on a plan for teacher raises.

But Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, said the talks haven’t yet produced a deal on state employee raises, retiree cost-of-living increases and income-tax changes.

Dollar declined to provide details of the teacher pay compromise. “I think what will come out at the appropriate time will be a very good mix of both chambers’ (proposals) as well as what the governor was looking for,” he said.

Dollar said negotiators are still working toward agreement on some education policy issues, including the Senate’s proposal for reduced tuition at UNC Pembroke and Western Carolina University.

Sen. Harry Brown, the Senate’s top budget writer, said Wednesday he believes the final details of the state budget could be worked out in hours, not days.

“I would think they could get it done today,” Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, told the Insider.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger were expected to meet later Wednesday to try to come to terms on salaries for teachers and state employees, as well as tax code changes to include in the 2016-17 spending plan. Those items appear to be the main sticking points between the chambers as the start of the new fiscal year – July 1 – approaches.

“We’re really close on both of those, and I think they’ll be able to work them out,” Brown said.

If that happens, Brown added, the Senate could vote on the $22 billion budget compromise this weekend.

House leaders also said good progress was being made on budget negotiations, but didn’t match Brown’s optimism.

Asked about the timeline for a budget compromise, Dollar didn’t give a clear answer. “We have to complete the negotiations of some of the larger issues that are outstanding,” he said.

A House rule also prohibits any budget vote until the third day following the signing of the budget compromise. Barring the waiving of that rule, the House likely couldn't vote until next week, even if a final agreement is reached Wednesday.

Moore, the House speaker, said the House still hoped to end the session by the Fourth of July, “but we’ll just have to see what progress we make.” Moore put the odds at adjourning the session before the holiday at “50-50.” Brown responded: “I think it’s better than that.”

“We’re going to be gone by then,” he said.

Patrick Gannon: 919-836-2801, @Pat_NCInsider