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Lawmakers Meet Between Sessions to Talk Budget

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RALEIGH — State lawmakers spent seven months duringthe last session creating an $11.4 billion dollar budget. It was one ofthe longest sessions in history and it cost taxpayers millions of dollars.Now,lawmakers are trying to get a head start on next year's budget talks.

This is the first time lawmakers have met on their own, off-session,to work on the budget. Legislators say the budget process is so complicated they need extra time to bone up on all of the specifics.Then they will take on the task of allocating money -- billions of dollarsof taxpayers money.

A series of monthly budget meetings started Monday.

In the legislative office building it was like the first day of a newsession Monday morning. Lawmakers busied themselves with meeting,greeting and sitting down to talk about the budget.

The full appropriations committee, made up of members from the Houseand Senate are working to get a jump on budget work they would otherwisehave to do in the next session. Committee Chairman Sen. Aaron Plyler(D) says they may save a week's time by meeting now.

They hope to save time and money. The committee will look at eachdepartment to see if there are things to cut. Leaders say it's a precedentsetting effort to make state government work more efficiently. Rep.Theresa Esposito (R, Forsythe Co.) says the special session costs moneytoo, but saves money in the long run.

Lawmakers will not have their individual staffs available for thesemeetings. Clerks, assistants, and secretaries are not on the payroll thistime out.

Photographer:Mark Copeland