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State Budget Negotiations Progressing; Compromise Deal May Emerge Soon

Budget


House and Senate budget writers worked late nights this week and also opened talks with Governor Roy Cooper in an effort to compromise on key differences in the 3 proposed state spending plans pushed forward this session. The major sticking point from the Governor’s perspective, based on social media reports from his staff, continues to be reluctance from lawmakers to include Medicaid expansion in the final state budget. Late this week he suggested that budget negotiations be split into two tracks, with one focusing on Medicaid and other health care issues and the other focusing on all other issues tied to the state budget framework.

Budget talks between the two chambers appear to be going more smoothly, with some key negotiators telling the NC Association of School Administrators (NCASA) advocacy team this week that a compromise has been reached on several sections of the budget. One of the last remaining sections to complete pertains to public education funding and policies, and negotiators from both chambers continued their talks on that section Wednesday and again today.

Some negotiators told NCASA a legislative deal on the full budget is possible by this weekend, which would set up votes in both chambers on the conference report by next week, if the progress continues. House Appropriations Co-Chair Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) was quoted by Raleigh’s The Insider news service as saying budget co-chairs hope to kick all remaining disagreements up to Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) "by the mid to end of this week."

With the education budget still pending in negotiations, now is the critical time for school leaders to connect with your local legislative delegation, key budget negotiators and even House and Senate leaders on priorities for K-12 public schools. NCASA has compiled a document outlining five major budget priorities, which should help with talking points for reaching out to lawmakers. Contact information for the main negotiators who will settle the education budget also is included in that document.

Even if the House and Senate reach a budget deal soon as hoped, it will face some critical steps quickly thereafter. First, the deal will face up-or-down votes in both chambers on the full state budget package, with no opportunity for amendments. Republicans hold the majority in both the House and Senate, making it likely that the deal they’ve negotiated can pass these critical votes. However, what is less certain is whether Democrats from either chamber will support the package.

Following full General Assembly approval of the budget, the Governor is expected to veto it, unless it includes Medicaid expansion and other priorities he has outlined, such as a significant statewide school bond referendum and hefty pay increases for teachers. Lawmakers then would need at least some Democrats in both chambers to vote with Republicans to override the Governor’s veto, and that is much less likely this year due to slimmer majorities of GOP control in the House and Senate.

It's possible that, in lieu of a veto override, legislators could then pass piecemeal spending bills that could fund some less controversial parts of the budget, such as employee pay raises; enrollment growth funding for public schools, universities and community colleges; and other needs that have widespread bi-partisan support. Even if this option is tapped, these piecemeal measures also could be vetoed, leaving the fate of many education funding and policy issues in limbo for weeks or months to come, if the House, Senate and Governor cannot reach an accord.

While this budget work is ongoing, NCASA is continuing to advocate for school leader priorities. Look for additional updates in this newsletter, at www.ncasa.net, and @NCASAtweets as developments occur.