RALEIGH — It looks like Republican leaders in the General Assembly will run out of time to approve a final North Carolina state budget before the latest deadline to pass a plan that’s now almost two months late.
Key House and Senate budget negotiators said Monday they had exchanged several offers since last week on how to divvy up spending $21.74 billion this fiscal year among large categories of state agencies. Little high-profile progress has been revealed since GOP Gov. Pat McCrory announced the bottom-line spending number on Aug. 18.
The two-year budget was supposed to be done by July 1. Lawmakers have passed two temporary spending measures for more time to work out a deal. The second measure expires Aug. 31, and Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said the full budget probably wouldn’t be completed and voted on before then.
“I don’t think it’s humanly possible it could happen before the 31st,” Apodaca told reporters before he returned to the private negotiations. Missing the deadline would require a third so-called “continuing resolution” that sets government spending levels in the meantime.
Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, wasn’t as direct as Apodaca about missing the deadline; Dollar said he wanted to see how much progress is made early this week. But he said a third temporary spending measure could be extended to the end of next week or longer.
Previous continuing resolutions this summer — the first one was to expire Aug. 14 — largely set state government spending at previous year’s levels, except for an additional $100 million-plus to meet public school enrollment growth and raise the minimum teacher’s salary from $33,000 to $35,000.
Most school districts opened classes Monday. District leaders worried about unresolved spending differences between the chambers either have laid off teacher assistants or warned them that their jobs were in jeopardy. The Senate proposed reducing funds equal to thousands of teacher assistant positions and using much of the money to hire more early-grade teachers instead.
Districts such as the Wake County public schools — the state’s largest — also have suspended driver’s education for high school students because lawmakers haven’t yet decided whether to keep subsidizing student training.
McCrory, who would be asked to sign any budget bill into law, said in a video to teachers released over the weekend that he was committed to working for pay raises for all teachers. Dollar said teacher salary changes beyond the already agreed-to $35,000 minimum were among differences between House and Senate negotiators.
Democrats and their allies criticized the delays.
“School systems across the state are feeling the pain from the negligence of state lawmakers in Raleigh,” Gerrick Brenner with the liberal-leaning Progress NC said in a release.