As NC House moves its budget forward, Senate releases its own proposal

After talks between the state House and Senate GOP appeared to stall, Republicans in both chambers are moving forward with their own proposals to make adjustments to the state’s two-year budget.

The N.C. House gave initial approval to its budget proposal Wednesday evening in a party-line vote, following hours of debate that included consideration of 20 amendments offered by members of both parties, nine of which were approved.

As debate on the House floor was happening, Senate Republicans released the text of their own budget adjustment bill, which was scheduled for a committee hearing Thursday morning.

The Senate GOP budget would provide additional child care funding. But it wouldn’t give further raises for teachers or state employees.

Republicans also want to provide money to clear a backlog of more than 55,000 students who applied for a private school voucher this year. Demand exploded after lawmakers remove income eligibility limits for the Opportunity Scholarship program.

Both House and Senate budget writers say their plan fully funds the wait list.

Senate budget

Senate budget writers propose providing an additional $136.5 million in one-time child care funding to address the loss of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief aid at the end of June. But child care advocates say $300 million is needed to avoid widespread closures of child care centers.

Unlike the House budget, the Senate doesn’t call for increasing teacher raises for the 2024-25 school year that were agreed to in last year’s budget. This means beginning teachers would see a 5.1% raise this year. But teachers with 15 or more years experience would get just a 1.5% raise.

Most state employees are set to get 3% raises that were agreed to in last year’s budget. The House would add an additional 1%, but the Senate budget would leave those raises unchanged.

If an updated spending plan is not passed during this legislative short session, the budget enacted last year by Republicans — who hold a legislative supermajority — will remain in effect.

Budget sticking points

Senate leader Phil Berger has said the Senate won’t approve the House proposal, citing concerns with dipping into reserves.

The state has about a $1 billion revenue surplus this year. The House’s proposal uses this surplus and pulls from reserves.

“The Senate has tried to work something out with the House; we have agreed to dip into the reserves, but not nearly to the tune of the House,” Berger told reporters on Tuesday. “And we’ve only done that to try to get a deal, and they continue to want to spend way too much money.”

Berger also said that “unless something changes drastically, the Senate plans to go home” at the end of this month.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Winston-Salem Republican and one of the House budget chairs, expressed optimism that a compromise could be reached.

Lambeth said some of the main sticking points between the chambers were on retiree bonuses, raises for teachers and state employees and Medicaid provider rates.

The House’s proposal provides $13 million in recurring funds to increase the Medicaid rates paid for durable medical equipment and for speech language and audiology therapy services.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s released his budget adjustment proposal — which serves as a recommendation — in late April.

His proposal called for an 8.5% teacher pay raise this year and 5% raises for state employees plus bonuses. Cooper also opposed funding for the private school scholarships.

Under the Dome

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