Budget

Chamber Votes Beginning for Final State Budget

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Read the full budget bill here.

RALEIGH—North Carolina lawmakers are finally about to vote on a two-year spending and tax package that was supposed to be ready July 1.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday scheduled the first of two required chamber votes on their compromise state budget with House Republicans. The House could begin voting Wednesday. The bill would then go to Gov. Pat McCrory.

The plan spends nearly $22 billion and includes money for teaching assistants and driver’s education in schools. There are $750 bonuses for state employees and teachers. Teachers also get experienced-based raises.

The personal income tax rate would fall in 2017, but sales taxes also would soon apply to things like car repairs and appliance installations.

Senate Democrats complain the budget is being voted on too quickly after details were finalized in secret.

– Associated Press

Details of State Budget Plan Released

budget_releasedRALEIGH—State lawmakers released their final budget proposal for the next two years.

Lawmakers met behind closed doors early Monday to talk about the deal. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore put the finishing touches on the plan late last week and held a news conference Monday afternoon to release some of the details about the $21.7 billion spending plan.

“It is a fair compromise.  we started off with two very different positions on a number of things. But the process worked the way it should,” said NC Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore.

The Senate will begin voting on the budget on Tuesday.

Budget Overview:

• 3.1% increase spending
• increase early career teacher pay
• preserves funding for driver education and teachers assistants
• Restores historic reservation tax credits

Other state employees will also see a one-time $750 bonus, as well as a 3 percent raise for highway patrol. But there will be no cost of living increase for retirees.

There will be optional grant money made available for local law enforcement purchase body cameras and there will be increased fees at the division of motor vehicles.

The budget was supposed to be in place July 1, but negotiations have dragged through the summer.

Both the House and Senate must vote twice in favor of the compromise before it goes to Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor raised questions over the weekend about the tax changes in the plan.

– Loretta Boniti

Differences Slowly Dwindle in State Budget Talks

senate_budgetRALEIGH— House and Senate Republicans have narrowed further the number of their differences that must be resolved before a state budget can be finalized.

Legislative leaders are continuing to say they are close to a deal, but there are still some big issues to work out before next Friday. Both the state House and Senate gaveled in for session on Tuesday, but the focus is on the work behind closed doors where budget negotiators are meeting.

“We are looking at Wednesday/Thursday, or Thursday/Friday, whenever we can get it done,” said NC Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore.

Senator Phil Berger said he would like to think that the few issues remaining can be worked out by weeks end, and allow the legislature to vote on a final budget by their current deadline of Sept. 18. But he said there are still a lot balls in the air.

“Like a lot of negotiations, until you have everything tied down and worked out, it is difficult to be overly optimistic about ‘We’re going to get it done by this date or that date.’ But we’re still working and we’re still going in the same direction, the right direction, we’re not going backwards at this point,” said Sen. Berger.

The chamber leaders are pretty tight-lipped at this point about what you will see when a budget is unveiled. But when asked what is left, they both are standing firm on the issues they highlighted at the beginning of this negotiating process as to what are top concerns.

“I think teacher assistants is the one that we really think of as being out there, Drivers ED. There were some environmental policies that were brought in at some point that are being discussed,” said Rep. Moore.

“We have all along had some concern with, ‘How do you put this budget together and do Medicaid reform and what’s the transition?’ So those are some issues that still need to be resolved,” said Sen. Berger.

Lawmakers currently have a deadline of Sept. 18 to get a new budget approved, or else they would need to approve fourth extension of the current state spending plan.

– Loretta Boniti

Gov. McCrory Confident Legislators Will Agree on Budget Before Temporary Spending Measure Expires

McCrory_At_DeskRALEIGH—Gov. Pat McCrory said legislators should have approved a final North Carolina budget months ago but acknowledges lawmakers must sort out a range of opinions.

McCrory talked to reporters Tuesday about the budget negotiations. The governor says he’s still pushing for his initiatives but considers his role as facilitating dialogue between House and Senate leaders.

He says he believes he has helped. Two weeks ago, he announced a bottom-line spending number of almost $22 billion after a breakfast meeting with legislative leaders.  A two-year budget was supposed to be on his desk by July 1, but Republican lawmakers got stuck over policy changes and funding levels for this year.

He said he is confident legislators will agree on a budget before a temporary spending measure expires Sept. 18.

Third Stopgap Spending Bill Approved by NC Lawmakers

magistrate_vetoRALEIGH—The state House and Senate have given themselves another extension to complete their work on the state spending plan.

In several quick votes on Thursday morning, both chambers approved the measure, which now says they must have a new budget in place by Sept. 18.

This is an extension of the budget that was supposed to expire on June 30. Head budget writers say they are they believe this new reprieve will allow to finish their work, because significant progress has been made in the last few days on the final product.

However, some legislators say they don’t believe this extension is necessary.

“Then folk can roll up their sleeves and work this evening, tomorrow and Saturday and get this thing resolved so that these counties and school systems and various others can have absolute predictability on what their budget is going to look like this year,” said Sen. Dan Blue, a Wake County Democrat.

The continuing resolution now goes to the governor for approval. Budget writers say they will now be working through the weekend to complete their work on the final spending plan for the state.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Legislators Agree on State Spending Target

budget_talksRALEIGH—It is just step one, but state spending plan writers say the announcement of a new budget bottom line is a breakthrough.

Legislators have agreed to increase state spending by just over 3 percent from this year. Both chambers say this compromise will mean some big decisions need to be made by budget writers.

The announcement came Tuesday morning. While that does not mean that there is a budget deal, it means that now the two chambers can start to work out some details of spending.

“At least we’ve got a starting point, because until you can agree on a number, you can’t give targets and it is hard to move forward. But at least we’ve got that done now,” said Majority Leader Sen. Harry Brown.

The new budget bottom line is $21.7 billion, which is $265 million more than the Senate was looking to spend, and $415 million less than the House had proposed.

“A number of the items the House was looking to invest in, particularly pay issues, obviously there will be far less money available for salary increases for teachers and state employees,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican.

The details of how much will be spent in each area of the budget have not been worked out yet. Those details, referred to as spending targets, should be hashed out fairly quickly so that the detail work of the budget can begin.

“We’ll be working without Senate colleagues on how that number will be worked out with a variety of priorities. How much we will have in education, how much we will have in public safety, and health and human services. And how much additional money within that target, will be available for other purposes,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican.

Beyond just spending, there are still many policy decisions that will have to be decided in the budget, perhaps none more vast than those surround education.

“I think the biggest issue now with still be in education, we’ve got to get our education chairs together, we just haven’t had that opportunity to work out those differences,” said Brown.

Head budget writers say it is still tough to say when the full budget negotiations will be complete, but they say this is the jumpstart to the process they have been waiting for. Under the current continuation spending plan the state is operating under, lawmakers have until Aug. 31 to come to a new budget agreement.

– Loretta Boniti

Lawmakers Stuck on Finding Compromised State Spending Plan

NC_house_newRALEIGH—State lawmakers say there is still a stalemate when it comes to finding a compromised state spending plan.

Legislators close to the negotiations say once a bottom line for spending is agreed to, the process could move along quickly. However, agreeing on that bottom line is a tough hurdle to cross.

North Carolina has been operating under a contingency budget since July 1. Legislators seem to agree that once a framework and bottom line is agreed upon, it could be a matter of days until a final budget is in place.

But that first agreement seems to be a difficult one.

“I don’t see us any closer than we were a month ago,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, Buncombe County Republican.

Late last week lawmakers continued their up and down roller coaster of budget negotiations.

“The intent is that we start moving in a much more expeditious manner next week on the budget,” said Rep. Tim Moore, NC Speaker of the House.

This week, lawmakers are continuing to be hopeful that the ever important budget bottom line can finally be agreed upon.

“When you get to that point in the appropriations process, where you begin to have agreements on how much money is available, some of the major issues are either resolved or taken off the table then it can begin to move a little more quickly. But you have to understand, you had two versions of the budget that were vastly apart, in both money perspective as well as policy perspective and they were never going to be easily reconciled,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican.

As the school year is set to start, and local governments are working without a full picture of what the final budget will look like, legislators say they agree with the frustrations about them not being done with their work.

“It is embarrassing that we are at this point and still don’t have a budget. Did we not know July 1 was coming? My guess is we could have looked four, five years ago at the calendar for July 2015 and we would have had a July 1,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican.

Neither the House nor Senate had voting sessions on Monday, but work was done over the weekend on the budget, it just didn’t produce any of the big decisions that need to be made.

“We are certainly exchanging ideas, exchanging specifics on certain areas. Once we arrive at a framework, hopefully arrive at a framework, we’ll be able to move forward,” said Rep. Dollar.

While there is certainly some optimism that a budget can be moved along, we are now into another week with no framework ready to go. It is not until after that framework is agree upon that talks on specifics can begin.

The current continuing resolution runs until the end of this month.

– Loretta Boniti

One Month Into Fiscal Year, Budget Talks Drag

budget_talksRALEIGH—As the first month of North Carolina’s fiscal year is about to end, state budget talks seem to be moving quite slowly.

Legislators were discussing their concerns and pointing out their differences Wednesday. However, that public discourse does not seem to be lending itself to finding a final spending plan for the state.

North Carolina started its fiscal year on July 1. No budget was in place, so the state’s old spending plan was extended until mid-August. But as July is about to end, senators say they don’t believe house budget writers are doing enough to find a compromise.

“I would like to give a shout out to the appropriations team in the House, but they are too busy going over our budget to sit down and discuss the differences. I guess they haven’t found those out yet. So I would like to encourage the House appropriations team to join with the rest of us and let’s get home before Labor Day,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Buncombe County Republican.

House budget writers say they may not be sitting across the table from their Senate counterparts, but they are doing work.

“We have been doing a lot of background work. There are a lot of elements within the budget,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican.

On Wednesday, the full appropriations committee in the House met to highlight the differences in the proposals that concerns them. But while it is the House and Senate who are working on the details of the budget, the governor is the one who signs off on it and offers suggestions along the way.

The Senate says one of those suggestions, a $1.2 billion bond for the state’s transportation needs, doesn’t make sense.

“We believe there is a better way to achieve this goal than what is laid out in the proposal to borrow $1.4 billion to spend on a few piecemeal projects,” said Sen. Bill Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican.

But the administration says while the projects the bond money is used for can be discussed, they don’t think passing up a bond is a good idea.

“We think it’s important to try to take advantage of our credit rating and low long-term interest rates to finance the infrastructure needs of our rapidly growing state,” said NC Budget Director Lee Roberts.

With more public disagreement than compromise, the question remains as to when legislators can complete their work for the year. The spending plan the state is currently working under runs out on Aug. 14. At that time, lawmakers would need to either extend it again, or have a final budget in place.

– Loretta Boniti

Progress on Budget Negotiations Slow

magistrate_vetoRALEIGH—The first week back from summer break for legislators has come and gone, with little to show publicly on budget progress.

But 15 days past the start of the fiscal year, legislators were encouraged to find some answers by the state’s top executive on Thursday. Caucuses happen behind closed doors, but with no budget in place leaders did say that was a topic of conversation.

“It was helpful. How it will transition into progress on the budget itself and how to exactly quantify from a time standpoint whether it saves us time. I think it saves us time, but how much is hard to say at this point,” said President Pro-tem Sen. Phil Berger.

Earlier in the day, the governor had done the same thing with the House Republican caucus where members say they believe that even though no budget deal was agreed to at the start of the fiscal year on July 1. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sense of urgency to get work accomplished. The House named all 82 of its budget negotiators on Tuesday. The Senate followed suit on Thursday.

But Democrats who are sitting on the sidelines say even though all these legislators have been told they are part of the process, they don’t see much work getting done.

“We named a lot of people, primarily everyone who voted for the budget. No one has been told what the strategy is in having that many people, what their work schedule is going to be, and what the results are expected to be, by what date certain,” said Minority Leader Rep. Larry Hall.

The House and Senate’s budget proposals vary widely. Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham County Democrat, served as a head budget writer when democrats were in charge of the legislature. he says the vast differences make the negotiation process difficult.

“This is one of the things that I’m not used to. You can’t forecast anything that is going to happen, because everyone is off on their own tangent,” said Rep. Michaux.

But head budget writers say work is being done on finding a middle ground and say they don’t believe this is a process that can be rushed.

“Whether it takes us more time or less time what’s really important at the end of the day is making sure that budget is right and it really does serve the needs of our citizens,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican.

Lawmakers approved a continuing resolution that says they now need to have a budget in place by Aug. 14.

Lawmakers Return From Summer Break Facing Spending Plan, Medicaid, Tax Policies

magistrate_vetoRALEIGH — Summer break is over for state lawmakers as both the House and Senate go back to work this week, after taking an extended Fourth of July holiday.

However, there is now a lot of work for lawmakers to get done, before they break for the rest of the year. Though Monday is technically the first day back from summer break, there are no votes, no committee meetings, no big legislation on to be considered.

Issues To Be Discussed:

• State Spending Plan—legislators gave themselves an extension to decide on a budget until mid-August
• Taxes and incentives—Senate is looking to lower personal and corporate taxes, and broaden the sales tax base. The governor has said he is not on board with big tax changes this year
• Medicaid—Both House and Senate agree the program needs an overhaul, but have never been able to find common ground on how to move forth.
• Gov. McCrory’s Bond Proposal—A referendum to be put before voters allowing the state to borrow money for both transportation projects and state infrastructure needs.

As the pool of candidates in the presidential race grows, North Carolina still has its presidential primary scheduled in February of next year. The national Republican party has warned the state if it doesn’t change that then it will lose some of its voting power at the national conventional.

The House has agreed to move it back, but the Senate hasn’t considered the bill.

– Loretta Boniti