Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers will put a temporary spending measure known as a continuing resolution in place this week. The measure will keep state government operating normally until a permanent spending plan can be worked out between the House, Senate and Gov. Pat McCrory.
The state's fiscal year ends June 30. Without a permanent budget in place – something that's unlikely to happen – or a continuing resolution, the governor would lack authority to spend money on "non-essential' functions.
This is the first time in two years the legislature has needed a continuing resolution, or CR, since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011. Before then, Democrats frequently used CRs to give themselves more time to work out budgets.
"This has been the norm more often than not," Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, said Monday.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will meet Tuesday morning to gut and amend an unrelated House bill to carry the temporary spending language. Brunstetter said the measure will be a "fairly standard CR" except that it will provide extra spending for the Medicaid program, which has experienced a series of cost overruns this year.
In general, continuing resolutions do three things:
- Ensure that money coming from the federal government can be used. Even though state agencies continue to receive federal grants despite action on Jones Street, they may not spend that money unless it is specifically appropriated by the General Assembly.
- Keep the lights on and boots on the ground. Continuing resolutions avoid the need for messy government shutdowns in which "non-essential" workers are sent home and not paid.
- Avoid problems. Government is not one big machine but dozens of linked up bureaucracies. Money, and the authority to spend it, is the grease that keeps that machinery moving smoothly.
In the past, lawmakers have passed short CRs – some keeping government going only for a few days – as a way to keep pressure on themselves to continue with budget negotiations.
This measure will last for 30 days, Brunstetter said. That would give lawmakers until the end of July to work out a deal.
That extra time is needed in large part because lawmakers are negotiating both a major tax reform deal as well as a new budget.
"We're waiting for the tax package to be resolved," said Brunstetter, the senior budget chairman in the Senate.
Lawmakers need to resolve how much the state is going raise in taxes before they can decide how much they'll spend in the budget. Word from tax negotiators is that they are still working to resolve their differences.
As well, the Senate version of tax reform changes how the state accounts for and uses several streams of taxes and fees. Until those accounting issues are worked out, it will be hard for budget-writers to properly account for those programs.
"Those are basic differences," Brunstetter said.
Once the tax bill is finished, Brunstetter said, budget-writers could probably resolve their differences fairly quickly. After that, McCrory would still need time to review any spending plan and decide whether he would sign the measure.