North Carolina legislature likely heading home soon for a ‘little cooling off’ over budget

With each legislative chamber uninterested in hearing the other’s spending proposal, North Carolina lawmakers look ready to go on hiatus after next week while a stalemate simmers between Republicans over how to adjust the current two-year state budget.

“Perhaps during this summertime with a lot of heat, maybe a little cooling off might be a good thing,” House Speaker Tim Moore told colleagues Thursday after the full House gave final approval to its $31.7 billion plan for state government spending starting with the new fiscal year July 1.

But the Senate has signaled no interest in considering the measure, which passed the House 68-36 after a similar initial affirmative vote Wednesday night.

Senate GOP leaders instead advanced earlier Thursday their own $31.4 billion plan through a budget committee. Their measure contains 240 fewer pages than the House bill, omits scores of House provisions and declines to raise teacher and state worker salaries beyond what the enacted two-year plan already directs for the next 12 months.

Senate leader Phil Berger has expressed frustration with House counterparts over their higher spending levels and liberal use of reserve funds. Berger said later Thursday that his chamber plans to hold perfunctory floor sessions after the end of the month, then wait to see if continuing conversations lead to the House agreeing on a plan more to the Senate’s liking.

“We’ll roll into the new fiscal year,” Berger told reporters. “If they at whatever point decide to get serious about the spending number, we are willing, able and ready to go.” But he acknowledged it’s possible no agreement is ever reached.

Moore said there are also no plans in his chamber to hear the Senate budget bill, which is supposed to get a full Senate vote early next week. He accused senators of throwing into disarray negotiations that he said had brought the two sides much closer.

“What I got was the Senate just kind of moving on out there and filing their own bill without any consultation or notice from the House, and we will not respond well to negotiation tactics like that,” Moore said.

Having a two-year budget already in place eases the pressure upon legislators to hammer out alterations quickly. But the impasse increases risks for Republicans that two key provisions important to families that the chambers largely agree upon could be left behind.

Both the House and Senate budget versions contain $487 million for programs that help K-12 students attend private schools and eliminate large program waiting lists now and for the future. Most of the money would go toward the state’s Opportunity Scholarships, which experienced a sharp increase in applications because family income limits for recipients were eliminated in last year’s budget.

And the two chambers also support giving roughly $135 million to replace most of the money coming from the federal government for child care center grants that will expire in July.

Legislative Democrats and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper oppose expanding private school scholarships and say hundreds of millions of dollars more are needed to help child care centers stay open and grow.

“Republican legislators have proposed two terrible budgets that steal billions in taxpayer money from public schools and child care to pay for private school vouchers millionaires will use,” Cooper wrote Thursday on X. He can veto legislation but Republican legislators hold enough seats to override any veto if they vote and remain united.

The General Assembly convened this year’s primary work session in late April, but there’s no set session end date. So two chambers have the flexibility to return later in the summer for more business before adjourning permanently.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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