Spending plan without extra raises passes NC Senate, as budget deal eludes GOP

With a budget agreement remaining elusive, Republicans in the North Carolina Senate approved their own spending proposal on Monday.

The GOP-controlled General Assembly convened for the short session in April, and one of the items on the legislative agenda was an adjustment bill to make any changes needed to spending in the second year of the two-year state budget that Republicans enacted in October.

Over the last few weeks, however, talks between House and Senate Republicans have broken down. Last week, House Republicans released and voted on their own version of a budget. Neither chamber is willing to take up the other’s bill, and GOP leaders are running out of time to reach an agreement, with the House and Senate planning to go home at the end of this week.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate leader Phil Berger, and other top Republicans have said, since there’s already a two-year spending plan in place. If an agreement on making adjustments isn’t reached, spending for the second year will go in effect as passed.

The Senate convened Monday evening to take up its spending plan and nearly a dozen other bills, including a bill that would legalize the use of marijuana for certain ailments like cancer and ALS. The chamber approved its spending plan in a 27-19 party-line vote, sending the proposal to the House.

Berger has said that there remains a wide gulf between the Senate and House, and that the two chambers have yet to get close on agreeing on even an overall spending number.

Differences between the budgets

Moore said last week that the chambers “were only $30 million apart on a $32 billion budget,” while Berger put the difference at $312 million in “new net general fund spending,” and $523.8 million in total spending.

“Might need to buy a calculator,” Berger told reporters last week.

The Senate’s proposal doesn’t contain any additional raises on top of the raises that were passed for the coming fiscal year in last year’s budget. Most state employees will get a 3% raise under the second year of the budget in place. The House’s proposal would add an additional 1% raise, giving most state employees 4% this year.

Both the House and Senate plans would provide millions to clear a backlog of more than 55,000 students who applied for private school vouchers this year. Demand for the Opportunity Scholarship program surged after Republicans removed income eligibility limits last year.

The two proposals also provide similar amounts of funding — around $135 million — for child care, to address the expiration of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief grants on June 30. Child care advocates have said the state needs $300 million to prevent the widespread closure of child care centers.

During Monday’s debate, Sen. Brent Jackson of Sampson County, one of the Senate’s budget chairs, said that even if the Senate isn’t able to reach an agreement with the House, he was “confident” the state would continue to “be in good shape.”

“There is no reason, this week, that we should not take up this bill, pass it into law, and continue discussion about other things that might be prudent to do, as an extension of this budget,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, another top GOP budget writer.

Republicans voted down a number of amendments filed by Democrats, including proposals to increase teacher pay and provide money to improve and modernize election administration.

After Monday night’s session, Berger told reporters that he wasn’t aware of anything in the Senate’s bill that “a majority of the House have indicated they’re opposed to.”

What’s next?

Berger said the proposal the Senate has passed makes changes “that would be nice to have,” but said he doesn’t think they’re necessary “for the state to continue on a good trajectory.”

Berger said that the Senate’s bill includes a provision formally authorizing the second-year teacher raises that were passed last year. That extra step is needed to avoid raises for teachers and other school personnel being delayed, The News & Observer has reported.

As of now, Berger added, the Senate doesn’t have an agreement with the House on an adjournment resolution, which would require passage by both chambers before lawmakers officially adjourn this year’s session.

Berger said the Senate intends to finish its business for the week by Thursday, before leaving Raleigh and moving to no-vote sessions.

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