Raleigh, N.C. — State Senate leaders announced Wednesday they're willing to remove several major policy items from their budget plan in order to restart stalled negotiations with the House.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, surrounded by the Senate Republican caucus, made the announcement at a hastily called press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Citing concerns from the House and Gov. Pat McCrory about some of the policy items in the Senate budget, Berger said the Senate is willing to remove the economic development provisions and the Medicaid reform plan.
"We intend to move separate bills through the Senate on both," he said. "It is our hope and our expectation that, by doing that, we remove what's been represented to us as an impediment."
However, Berger added, the Senate is standing by a spending cap of $21.65 billion for the 2015-16 budget, an amount that reflects estimated population growth and inflation, and called on House negotiators, including House Senior Budget Chairman Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, to agree to the cap.
Asked whether the compromise number had been discussed with the House, Berger would say only that they've so far been unsuccessful in reaching agreement on that spending target.
The House budget totaled about $22.15 billion, while the Senate's proposal was around $21.5 billion.
Berger, R-Rockingham, expressed optimism that, once the chambers agree on a spending target, the budget will fall into place very quickly and could be finished by Aug. 14, the end date of the current continuing resolution.
Dollar was considerably less sanguine.
Calling the Senate's proposal a "positive first step," Dollar cited concern about "dozens" of other policy provisions in the Senate plan.
He also expressed dissatisfaction with the $21.65 billion target, saying the population-growth-plus-inflation formula is insufficient in the wake of years of budget cuts and deferred spending.
"The House wants to ensure that we have adequate resources to meet the needs of the state," he said. "Especially in education."
Meanwhile, Senate leaders plan to roll out their proposals for Medicaid reform and economic development in committees Thursday morning.
"I think we're closer than we've ever been to getting those things worked out," Berger told reporters.