Raleigh, N.C. — House Democrats called Tuesday for an open conference process as the two chambers wrangle opposing versions of the state budget.
Minority Leader Larry Hall decried a directive issued Monday by Gov. Pat McCrory to budget state agencies according to the plan that offers the lesser amount of funding between the House and Senate spending plans if lawmakers do not agree on a budget deal by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The budget memo includes no teacher pay raises and would cut, among other items, $19.8 million from the University of North Carolina system, $32 million from Medicaid coverage of the elderly, blind, disabled and medically needy and 30 percent from the Department of Public Instruction, which would also lose 70 school nurses.
McCrory announced the plan in response to leaders’ hints that they would leave the current budget as is if they cannot reach a compromise. His office said larger agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services could shift spending to absorb some changes in the short term.
However, agencies are directed to begin the termination process for any state employee whose job would be cut by the House and Senate proposals.
Hall, D-Durham, said more transparency is needed in the budget process, which he characterized as fraught with partisan tension.
“Since we’ve destroyed the public trust, what can we do to rebuild it?” he asked. “Let’s make this conference process open. Let’s have an open discussion so the public can see who is bringing forward the ideas, what are they actually based on.”
He criticized provisions of both proposed spending plans, including a measure that would use lottery money to fund teacher pay.
McCrory’s directive would make an exception for teacher assistants. The Senate budget eliminated funding for about 7,400 teaching assistants, but the governor said no positions would be cut under his order.
Hall said leaving the budget stalemate unresolved would only hurt state agencies, which would face deep cuts and no expansion items.
“Walking away is not the answer. Taking an interim break is not the answer,” he said. “Getting down to business and having an open conference process is the answer, we say, and we would demand that that be what is done so that we can move forward and get a budget for the people of this state.”