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General Assembly To Begin Negotiating House, Senate Budget Plans

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Senate is likely to officially reject the state House's version of the budget Monday night, starting the clock on getting a final spending bill to Gov. Mike Easley by June 30.

The House adjourned at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and went home for the weekend after voting 62-58 in favor of its two-year budget proposal for state government.

Before House members put their stamp on a budget they served up a compromise to most state employees. Instead of a 2.5-cent raise, workers would get a flat $1,086 more in their paychecks.

"This proposal is actually better for all employees who make less than $43,500 than the 2.5 percent proposal -- and we're talking about three-fourths of the state's workplace," said Sherry Melton of the State Employees Association.

Both chambers will pick conferees to negotiate differences in the competing plans. The Senate passed a $16.9 billion budget last month -- about $150 million less than the House plan.

The two plans differ markedly on education, Medicaid and taxes on the rich and smokers. If lawmakers cannot reach a deal by June 30, lawmakers usually pass a measure that keeps the government running at current-year spending levels.

The House already has approved one so-called "continuing resolution," but it comes with a twist. Attached are $562 million in new or extended taxes.

Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, will have to weigh whether to accept those taxes or eliminate them from the resolution, prompting a separate showdown.

Easley also will be involved in the budget negotiations, since he has a veto stamp.


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