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Hunt Scolds Legislators Over Budget Impasse

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RALEIGH — Several weeks after trying to settle the state's budget impasse behind closed doors, Governor Jim Hunt is now scolding legislators in public.

North Carolina is the only state in the country that has not passed a new budget. The Governor said that he needs to step forward because he believes the stalemate will begin to affect a significant number of people.

"I'm calling on the leaders of the House, as strongly as I know how, to step up and do what they ought to do," Hunt said.

Hunt blames House Republicans for not meeting Senate Democrats halfway on the budget.

"Now it's time, it's past time, to exert strong forceful leadership to enact this budget and let government do its job," Hunt said. "Speaker Brubaker and Majority Leader Daughtry must step up and provide the leadership that the people of the state expect."

Hunt says programs like the Tar Heel Challenge boot camp for teens at risk will be in jeopardy without $128 million in matching federal grants, which the state cannot access until a new budget is passed.

"If this legislature doesn't pass a budget, if they just go home and keep piddling around, nothing gets done," Hunt said. "If we don't have a budget this year, we'll lose all that money."

House Speaker Harold Brubaker responded by accusing the Governor of using a "bully pulpit" to hide increased Senate spending, and urged Hunt to "encourage the Senate leadership to negotiate."

Brubaker said that programs like Tar Heel Challenge will not be at risk because of special legislation coming up next week. Administrators overseeing the program remain pessimistic.

"There's always the possibility that some provision within the bill is held in dispute between the House and Senate," Crime Control Legislative Liaison Joe Stewart said. "We simply are a victim of the budget impasse, and unless we find the state funding we need to provide the match funding by Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year, the program will simply go away."

The dispute that originally caused the budget battle between the House and Senate was over the repeal of the state inheritance tax.

The Senate gave in on that issue two weeks ago, and proposed setting aside other issues to wrap up the legislative session. But the House has not responded quickly.