Raleigh, N.C. — House Speaker Tim Moore said House and Senate budget negotiators will likely strike a deal on the bottom-line number Thursday, clearing the way for work on a final spending plan.
"Conversations are happening, progress is being made, and hopefully the end is in sight," he told the House Thursday afternoon. "The intent is to start moving in a much more expeditious manner on the budget next week."
Speaking with reporters after session, Moore predicted the two chambers would settle on the "availability" – the bottom-line amount of money in the budget – by the end of the day.
"The plan is to let the [House and Senate] subcommittee chairs start meeting next week, hopefully on Monday, depending on how the big [senior budget] chairs move along, and try to get this thing done," he said.
He said the goal is to meet the Aug. 31 deadline extension. While saying he'd personally rather have a budget by the time the school year starts Aug. 24, he conceded that might be difficult to accomplish.
"We’re not up here just sitting around, doing whatever. We really are working," he said. "It’s better that we get a good product, even if it takes a little longer, than to do a rush job and get something that we can’t be proud of."
One key area of disagreement has been teacher assistants. The House budget would continue to fund the current 15,000-plus positions, while the Senate plan would cut more than 8,500 of them, redirecting that money to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes instead.
"We’re going to fight hard for the House position on teaching assistants," Moore said. "My understanding is that most school districts are going to go ahead and hire those positions and have those folks. Under the (continuing resolution spending plan), the money is there. The issue – the problem – would be if, for some reason, it wasn’t a part of the final budget, what would happen later in the year? But I can tell you, our folks are solid. We want the teaching assistants in there."
He said a compromise solution might be flexible block grants that districts could use for either teachers or TAs.
"Take that sum of money and send that to the local school districts and let them decide," he suggested. "What works in Wake County may work differently in Rutherford County, so why not give the local school districts flexibility on that?"