Raleigh, N.C. — A new fiscal year begins in 10 days, and state lawmakers are working hard to hammer out the details of a new budget and pass the spending plan by then.
On Monday, as House budget writers huddled in one room of the Legislative Building and Senate budget writers gathered in another, the two sides shuttled proposals back and forth without any formal negotiations.
"We're exchanging offers with the Senate on each of the budgets," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, referring to the various spending plans for education, public safety and health and human services.
"Education is still the tough nut to crack. That's probably going to be the last one," Michaux said, adding that the House and Senate are extremely close to an agreement on a budget for the Department of Health and Human Services.
DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler said he has serious concerns with how his portion of the budget is shaping up.
"It's either begin to cease providing services or stretch the dollars so thin we don't do anything very well. That's what we've got to deal with right now," Cansler said.
Lawmakers need to pass "a budget that works" and not simply approve a spending plan to meet the July 1 deadline for a new budget, he said.
Budget writers still must contend with the loss of about $500 million in federal economic stimulus funding that they had hoped to use to balance the budget. Congress recently dropped about $24 billion in stimulus funding to states from a jobs bill.
Without the extra money, which would cause the state deficit to balloon to $1.3 billion, lawmakers will likely make deeper cuts to DHHS and other state agencies.
Cansler said his department could lose another $100 million. "Right now, I don't have a clue how we're going to accomplish that," he said.
Lawmakers said various ideas are on the table to close the gap, including a one-day furlough of state workers.
"We have folks out working right now to see where we can find that $500 million that we need to fill it in, and I think we can find that," Michaux said.