Thursday, June 26, 2014 —
RALEIGH – The N.C. House of Representatives officially passed its version of a $21 billion state budget on June 13 after several hours of contentious debate and two weeks after the Senate approved its own version of the spending plan.
The heavy lifting now begins, with the two chambers trying to hammer out a compromise budget before sending it to Gov. Pat McCrory for his approval.
Some might think that because Republicans control both the House and Senate, not to mention the governor’s office, that there would be more harmony between the two versions of the budget. While many of the differences are in style rather than substance, there are some key disagreements that will need to be ironed out.
One of the clearest examples of where the House and Senate agree on an issue in theory, but differ in the execution, is teacher pay raises.
The Senate’s budget would give teachers an 11 percent salary increase, but in order to qualify for that raise teachers would have to give up their tenure rights. The House, on the other hand, would offer teachers an average 5 percent raise, but not require current teachers to give up tenure in order to receive it.
Both budgets are in agreement when it comes to removing the State Bureau of Investigation from the purview of the Department of Justice, which is led by the state’s elected attorney general, and shifting control to the Department of Public Safety. The current attorney general, Democrat Roy Cooper, opposes the move.
Other key differences include how to handle the state’s Medicaid program, whether or not to extend historic preservation tax credits, eliminating or reforming the state’s film incentives program and how to fund the teacher pay increases without raising taxes.
On teacher pay raises, the Senate proposes funding the higher salaries in large part by cutting teacher assistant positions, while the House would seek to tie teacher pay raises to an increase in lottery revenue by boosting the lottery’s advertising budget.
Each chamber’s budget was subject to hours of lengthy debate on the floor and dozens of amendments. With the budget now moving to conference committee, work will return behind the scenes as leaders gather to find points of compromise to ensure a finalized budget is sent to the governor before the end of the fiscal year on Monday.
Lawmakers appear optimistic that they will be able to meet that deadline. In fact, one of the Senate’s top leaders has already filed an adjournment resolution for Friday. While that is not necessarily binding, it does signal that the General Assembly leadership is eager to wrap up its legislative business for the year. And most members want to leave Raleigh as soon as possible so they can return home and hit the campaign trail in advance of the November elections.
With Republicans controlling the House, Senate and governor’s office, it will be interesting to see how the intraparty battle over the budget plays out. Even though they all play for the same team, there seems to always be friction when one party controls government.
For the Republicans in charge in Raleigh, it remains to be seen how wide the chasm is between the legislative chambers and the governor, and how difficult, or easy, it will be to negotiate that divide.
Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.