RALEIGH – When the N.C. General Assembly reconvened in mid-May, there was talk of a short, efficient session.
Some even speculated that lawmakers would wrap up their business in just a few weeks despite the packed agenda they were facing. However, as we move into late July that early prediction has not proven true as the House and Senate continue to wrangle over adjustments to the state budget.
It is not unusual for the General Assembly to remain in session through late July during so-called “short” sessions in even-numbered years, but many lawmakers themselves perhaps set unrealistic expectations when pledging to finish their work and adjourn so quickly.
At one point, the Senate filed an adjournment resolution saying business would be wrapped up on June 27, which was clearly optimistic. The House filed its own adjournment resolution for July 25, another deadline that will come and go with the General Assembly still in session.
The primary sticking point keeping legislators from adjourning and heading home is the state budget. The General Assembly passes a two-year budget in odd-numbered years during the legislative “long” session. When they return for the short session the following year they are tasked with making any necessary adjustments to that budget, but ultimately they could leave town without doing anything and keep the current budget in place.
This year, however, legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory promised pay raises for teachers and to address a host of other big issues during the short session. And even though Republicans control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, it has proven very difficult to find enough common ground to achieve those goals.
The House and Senate have been going back and forth on the budget for weeks now. At one point, during a joint committee meeting between the two chambers to hash out a compromise, Senate budget negotiators walked out in frustration. In the end, both chambers want the same result – higher pay for teachers – but they cannot come to an agreement on how high that raise should be and how to pay for it.
Disagreements over the budget have spilled into the public now too, with Republican Senate leader Phil Berger and Gov. McCrory trading barbs in the press even as the two hope to forge some kind of deal. So far, McCrory has more closely aligned himself with the House proposal, even threatening to veto the Senate’s plan at one point.
Of course, bickering in the General Assembly is nothing new, but it is interesting to watch the intraparty battle play out since the Republicans control all of state government in North Carolina. When one party runs everything, the disagreements are more focused on personalities and turf battles, rather than ideology.
Ultimately, it seems likely that a compromise will be found and the legislative session will finish up by mid-August. In the meantime though, citizens are getting a firsthand example of the old political adage, “the other party is the opposition, but the other chamber is the enemy.”