Budget negotiations getting down to final sticking points


RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Budget negotiations are getting down to the short rows at the North Carolina General Assembly, where top legislative leaders working to resolve remaining differences as the new fiscal year begins late next week.

House and Senate Republicans have been talking for the past two weeks about differences in their competing legislation to run state government for the next 12 months. Each chamber agreed to spend a little more than $22.2 billion in competing bills they passed, although they spent in different ways.

“We’ve resolved a large share of issues,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the House senior budget writer. “However, there are several issues … that are left to be determined.”

It’s gotten to the point where Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have been asked to help unstick the remaining issues, according to Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, Dollar’s counterpart in the Senate.

Brown and Dollar said in separate interviews that the two chambers still didn’t see eye-to-eye on taxes and compensation for government workers, although Dollar said there was an agreement on pay for public school teachers. Dollar declined to provide details Wednesday on that agreement but said “what was arrived at was a very good blend of both Senate and House priorities.”

The House proposed average teacher pay raises of 4.1 percent while the Senate offered 6.5 percent increases on average. Neither plan would have given permanent pay raises to the most veteran teachers, although the House also would give some bonuses. The House also would have left out permanent raises for early career teachers.

As for rank-and-file state workers, the House wanted to give 2 percent raises and $500 bonuses. The Senate preferred giving agency heads money to decide who would get salary increases and bonuses. Dollar said pension issues were still on the table. The House wanted a 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment. The Senate offered no such allowance.

On taxes, both chambers wanted to raise the standard deductions for individual income taxpayers by $1,000 to $2,000, but they differed on how to phase in the changes.

Brown sounded optimistic early Wednesday that a final deal could be reached at any time, saying Senate Republicans would be willing to hold votes this weekend but that it could be next week. House Republicans took a more cautious tone.

“We do want to pass a budget as quickly as possible, but we’re not going to abandon House priorities to do so,” said Andy Munn, a spokesman for Moore.

The final approved measure would then go to Gov. Pat McCrory for his requested signature. McCrory, who offered his own budget proposal, has been largely quiet about the negotiations.

This year’s budget bills adjusted the second year of the two-year budget approved last September, so there’s a spending plan in place in case negotiations extend beyond the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

Passing the budget adjustments would remove the major roadblock preventing the General Assembly from adjourning its annual session soon after. The session began April 25.

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