State News

State budget talks go down to wire

Posted June 30, 2008 3:24 p.m. EDT
Updated June 30, 2008 11:29 p.m. EDT

— The state's new fiscal year starts Tuesday, but it was unclear Monday night whether lawmakers would agree on a budget before the deadline.

Teams of Democratic lawmakers working on the budget through the weekend went back to work Monday. Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, the chief negotiator for the House, said he hoped most of the chamber's differences with the Senate could be ironed out by Monday night.

"I feel the pressure. You know, we said we're going to get this budget done, and we're working with the House closely trying to resolve some of these issues," said Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth.

The differences include how much to spend on college enrollment increases and how to pay for state building projects.

"It's a slow process anyway. It's give and take, and there's some concerns about other things there. But we're a lot closer than we were (Sunday) night," said Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford.

A 3 percent raise for public school teachers and a 2.75 percent raise or $1,100 for most other state workers appear to be supported by most lawmakers.

Agreeing on the revenue side of the budget hasn't been so easy. Gov. Mike Easley complained over the weekend that lawmakers weren't taking projections of $70 million less in tax collections seriously enough.

"Our staff has not given us the numbers in that regard," Garrou said.

Some budget writers said Easley ignores reality to think they can squeeze more money out for teacher bonuses at the same time as cutting back.

"If we already know we have less money, then why add something in there that gives people false hope?" Garrou said.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate must vote to approve the budget on consecutive days. It will then be presented to Easley for his signature.

Because this is the second year of the state's two-year budget cycle, the July 1 deadline isn't as pressing as the first year. The existing budget will remain in place until lawmakers pass a new spending plan.