- Associated Press - Monday, June 30, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The North Carolina Senate unceremoniously ditched a House bill that was designed to hasten state budget talks with a rare maneuver Monday night that could instead aggravate negotiations between Republicans in both chambers.

On the eve of the new fiscal year, the Senate returned a trimmed-down spending measure to the House without considering its contents.

Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, said the bill put the state out of fiscal balance, particularly on Medicaid. Senate leaders disagree with House Republicans and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory about their spending projections for the coming year on the federal-state health insurance program.

Apodaca’s parliamentary maneuver, which received no objection from his Senate colleagues, was extraordinary. Usually, disliked bills are buried in a committee, sent to a conference committee or voted down.

But senators didn’t fancy the agreement by McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg - announced at an Executive Mansion news conference last week without any senators - to run a secondary “mini-budget” bill.

“We’re serious about getting a budget done, and it’s time to stop playing games,” Apodaca said after the Senate’s evening session.

The House legislation, approved by the House late last week, contained average 5 percent teacher raises inside and fewer elements than the primary Senate and House budget bills, which include dozens of yet-unresolved differences.

The idea, according to House Republicans, was to have another path to pass teacher salaries in case the broader budget negotiations got bogged down. Apodaca presented a document to Senate colleagues arguing the House’s secondary budget bill still would generate a shortfall of $74 million to $183 million, largely due to Medicaid.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he hadn’t reviewed Apodaca’s dismissal Monday night but said the “mini-budget” is balanced.

Despite Monday’s dust-up, the top budget negotiators met earlier Monday to work on the broader spending plan for the fiscal year, which starts Tuesday, Dollar said. “We’re continuing to have discussions. We will move forward,” he said.

A two-year spending plan through mid-2015 was approved last summer, so state government can keep operating under the current budget law. The two chambers are now working out differences to adjust the second year of the budget. Each chamber wants to spend about $21.1 billion in the coming year.

McCrory, who would be asked to sign adjustments into law, has already told state agencies to expect to operate with less money for now while spending reductions by the legislature are finalized.

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