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Budget delay cracks top-5 longest since the 1960s

Posted September 18, 2015

— When Gov. Pat McCrory signed off on the 429-page state budget bill Friday morning, 2015 officially became one of the most protracted North Carolina budget seasons in more than half a century.

At 80 days overdue, this year's spending plan saw the fourth-longest delay since 1961, according to an analysis by the General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division. It falls about a week short of the No. 3 spot in 2001, but far from the No. 1 position in 1998, when the legislature took 122 extra days to strike a deal.

“We recognize we’ve been here a while, because we have dealt with a lot of chronic problems (where) the can’s been kicked down the road for decades,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a news conference Monday.

The House and the Senate put forward two competing spending plans earlier this year ahead of the legislative June 30 deadline. But for weeks, state leaders say, the substantial differences between the two versions kept negotiations at a standstill.

"I've certainly never seen two budgets further apart, and frankly, that was the big challenge we've had over the past weeks and months," House Senior Budget Chair Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, told his chamber Thursday ahead of its first vote on the compromise measure.

Budget top-20

See how the 20 most overdue state budget seasons compare, according to data from the General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division.

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The stalemate prompted intervention from McCrory, who told WRAL News on Thursday that he played a "major part" in getting the conversation going again.

"I told them, I said we’re one of only four states that has yet to complete the budget. This is unacceptable," McCrory said. "And they knew it, and they wanted to find common-sense solutions.”

The delay was also costly. At about $210,000 a week, according to Legislative Services Controller Wesley Taylor, extra session expenses will end up costing taxpayers about $2.2 million through Sept. 18. That's a small drop in a state budget totaling $21.7 billion.

As the fiscal year came and went, the long wait prompted plenty of angst from school systems and others dependent upon state funding. That frustration wasn't lost on members of the House and the Senate, who voted three times to extend their own deadline.

McCrory called those continuing resolutions a "loophole" in the law that contributes to longer stalemates. He said that needs to change, possibly with an amendment to the state constitution.

"The Democrats did this. The Republicans repeated some of those mistakes," McCrory said. "That’s not fair to the teachers, that’s not fair to small businesses and big businesses and the people of North Carolina because it brings about a sense of uncertainty."

Although they acknowledged the process has been time-consuming, legislative leaders have argued they needed the extra two-and-a-half months to tackle longstanding issues such tax policy as well as the framework for Medicaid reform, bonds and economic incentives, measures that will work through the General Assembly in the coming days.

"It has taken us longer than we would have liked, but if you look at the big issues that we have dealt with, if you look at how we have resolved some things that have been nagging for a fairly substantial period of time, we’re concerned about the length of time, but the more important thing is that we get it right," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a news conference Monday. "I think that’s what we’ve done."

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  • Randy Riddle Sep 19, 2015
    user avatar

    This article could have benefitted from some kind of quote or reaction from the opposition party and asking a challenging question about the timeline of the Republicans in charge of the process in the legislature. McCrory, quoted with his usual "the other party did it too" reaction, was really just sitting around and twiddling his thumbs until it came to his desk to sign.

  • Mary O'Shields Sep 18, 2015
    user avatar

    Your story states that the "extra session expenses will end up costing taxpayers about $2.2 million through Sept. 18." That money could have been better spent on community colleges or on teachers or anything else that would benefit the people of NC. I hope we will pass a law that stops paying the legislators for the extra sessions. I think they'll find their way to a satisfactory budget by the deadline if they are no longer getting paid.
    Read more at http://www.wral.com/budget-delay-cracks-top-5-longest-since-the-1960s/14906165/#kdSg9EGZQw9c29Yw.99