Deal doesn't appear close for state budget that's already 4 months late
With new congressional and legislative district maps approved, passing a state budget is the only major task left for the General Assembly this year.Posted — Updated
North Carolina hasn't had a full budget since the 2018-19 fiscal year because of political standoffs between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-led legislature. Given that the budget for the current fiscal year is more than four months overdue, it's not clear whether the situation will change anytime soon.
Last week, legislative leaders said they hoped they would have a deal with Cooper this week. But both the House and the Senate are now taking next week off – a good indication the two sides aren't close to a deal.
"Part of the complex problem is that we've had so much money," said Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, the House's lead budget writer. "It was federal [pandemic relief] money coming in, plus from our own success – not anticipating that we would do so well during COVID. We have a lot of money that the state has, and we want to be very thoughtful about how to spend it."
North Carolina has a record budget surplus of $8.7 billion, but it can’t be touched until there’s a deal. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief money is tied up in the budget, too, and that needs to be spent soon.
For six weeks now, House and Senate leaders and Cooper have been exchanging offers. But they won’t discuss what’s in them.
"There have been great conversations. Nothing is solved yet," Saine said. "The clock is running as we are late into this, and I think that legislators are getting antsy as I talk to some of my colleagues. They really want to get this done."
So do the tens of thousands of people who work for the state.
Teachers haven’t had a raise since 2018. All three proposals – Cooper's and budgets passed by the Senate and the House – call for raises, but they don’t agree on how much. The House had offered 5.5 percent over two years.
"Teacher pay is certainly going to be increased. I think things will look more like the House version that came out on teacher pay," Saine said.
State employees are also due for raises, but again, it's unclear how much. All three budgets called for bonuses for some or all teachers and state workers.
Cooper and lawmakers also have to reach deals on tax cuts and whether to expand Medicaid.
Given that no veto has been overridden since 2018, it might just mean yet another year without a state budget.
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