Raleigh, N.C. — After a quiet post-crossover week, state House and Senate leaders say they're on track to complete the budget early this year, aiming to avoid a lengthy stalemate.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has tentatively scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon to roll out the Senate's spending plan. In this biennium, it's the Senate's turn to begin the process.
In recent years, the House and the Senate have released proposals that varied widely in terms of spending growth and policy initiatives. In 2015, battles over budget provisions kept lawmakers in Raleigh till Oct. 1.
This year, however, the chambers' lead budget writers have been working more closely in hopes of shortening the negotiation process.
"I think the discussion is more open than it has been in the past," said Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick. "Hopefully, it will move the process along, but as the Zen master always says, 'We'll see.'"
Rabon said the plan is to hear the measure in committees on Wednesday, hold Senate floor votes on Thursday and Friday and then send it to the House.
However, he said House and Senate leaders have not yet agreed on whether the Senate's ambitious tax cut plan, passed in a separate bill, would be included or figured into the budget deal. He said a meeting on that issue - a major potential sticking point with the House, which doesn't support it - is scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Nonetheless, House Rules Chairman David Lewis was optimistic Monday afternoon, saying the goal is to put a final budget deal on Gov. Roy Cooper's desk by June 15.
"And then go home," Lewis, R-Harnett, told reporters Monday afternoon.
He predicted the coming week would be a fairly quiet one in the House. No votes are scheduled for Tuesday, and the override vote for Cooper's veto of House Bill 467, which limits the damages people can obtain from hog farms and other agricultural and forestry operations for causing nuisances, could be pushed back from Wednesday into next week because several Republican House members are out, Lewis said.
In the meantime, he suggested the House may take up a handful of "less contentious bills," including one by Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, to allow restaurants to use outdoor grills.
"I think you'll see us vote on three or four," Lewis said. "The Senate will be using most of the resources of the body to focus on its budget."