Local Politics

Budget negotiations progress slowly

Posted June 19, 2009 7:07 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2009 7:25 p.m. EDT

— Conference committees have met much of this week to hammer out differences in the House and Senate budgets and reach a compromise proposal. But some groups are showing much less progress than others after several days of work.

Senators and House members have squared off over every line in the Department Health and Human Services budget to determine where to make cuts.

"I can't vote to close (mental health) beds when people can't get in," said Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. "If the answer is we cut because we had to, that's not a good answer."

DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler said the process is slow "because it's painful."

Nesbitt defended the sluggish pace but said proposed cuts are too deep.

"Everything we're dealing with is very important, so you should go slow," he said. "I do not think we will come to an agreement within the amount of revenue we have."

Down the hall in the Legislative Building, the committee reviewing the education budget has agreed on 80 percent of the items.

"The real contention you're seeing in our room now is between how much goes into K-12 (and) how much money is restored to the universities," said Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Madison.

Rapp said the House doesn't support funding university enrollment growth and instead wants to maintain class sizes in kindergarten through the third grade and add no more than two students in the fourth through 12th grades.

"I think the Senate is more interested right now in perhaps adding three students across the board K-12, so that's a point of contention," he said.

With the June 30 deadline to pass a budget looming, many of the committees plan to work through the weekend.

Finance committees, for example, need to agree on a plan to raise about $1 billion in new revenue.

Senate leaders on Thursday disclosed a plan to begin taxing dozens of services, from lawn care to car repairs, while lowering the state rates on sales and income taxes. Meanwhile, the House budget calls for a quarter-cent increase on the sales tax and higher income taxes on couples making more than $200,000 a year.

Gov. Beverly Perdue wants lawmakers to find $1 billion in additional revenue to avoid drastic cuts to education.