RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers quickly voted Wednesday to give themselves another 2½ weeks to work out a two-year budget that was supposed to begin July 1.
Both the Senate and House passed a stop-gap spending measure on Wednesday to replace one that expires Friday night.
The so-called “continuing resolution,” which now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for his expected signature, is not much different from the current temporary spending plan, save for the new expiration date of Aug. 31. The extension keeps state government operating at last year’s levels, with some exceptions.
There was little doubt an extension would be needed. Negotiators have yet to even finalize how much money they should spend this year, although Republicans from both chambers said recent discussions on reaching a number have been positive. Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, a top budget negotiator, said that figure could be reached very soon.
The House passed a budget in May that would spend $22.1 billion this year. The Senate followed with a budget that spent $21.5 billion.
“We are making progress in that regard and we’ve had a lot of very fruitful discussions,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “And we certainly have more ways to go.”
Eight Senate Republicans voted no to the extension, with some expressing frustration about why more hasn’t been done to work out education funding for the coming year.
“I can’t vote for this,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, taking a swipe at House negotiators. “We’ve tried in this chamber to provide those numbers, but other people in his building don’t seem to care what the schools are facing.”
But fellow senators said voting ‘no’ could lead to something worse — a state government without some kind of operating budget in place this weekend.
“The worse care scenario is not passing anything” that leads us from “confusion to calamity,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg. He voted for the temporary extension, which passed the Senate 33-9. Earlier and with little debate, the House passed the extension 113-2.
The updated resolution does keep in place additional funds to pay for increased public school enrollment statewide and cements higher salaries for early-career teachers, which both the Senate and House backed in their separate spending plans.
The House and Senate still haven’t agreed yet on funding levels for teacher assistants, raising some worries for the workers as most classes begin in the coming two weeks. The Senate has wanted to spend about $300 million less on assistants compared to the House but shift much of those funds to more full-time teachers in early grades. The difference, however, equates to funding for several thousand assistants.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said districts should have enough funds to hire teacher assistants in the meantime, and school superintendents he said he talked to earlier Wednesday plan to do just that.
Should the final budget not get approved until the end of the month, it would mark the latest a two-year spending plan has been finalized since 2001, when then-Gov. Mike Easley signed the budget into law Sept. 26.