- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - As House and Senate Republicans keep working in Raleigh to merge their competing spending plans into one, their delays in passing a two-year state budget will cost more than $1 million originating from taxpayers.

The tab comes largely from the legislature’s inability to pass a new state budget that’s supposed to take effect July 1. Lawmakers instead have approved two temporary spending extensions - the latest of which was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Pat McCrory and expires Aug. 31. It would now be the latest a two-year budget has passed since 2001.

It costs the state on average an extra $840,000 for every additional month the legislature meets compared to the cost of running operations when the annual session is adjourned. That’s also calculated as $42,000 per weekday, according to the General Assembly’s financial services office.

If July 1 is considered the date before which lawmakers should complete their work for the year, then the session has cost an additional $1.13 million through Thursday based on the legislature’s figures. The amount doesn’t include days during the week after July 4, in which lawmakers adjourned for an unusual summer break.

The extra money spent while the legislature is in session goes in part to increase hours for part-time workers, print more bills and use more janitorial supplies. And the 170 legislators receive $104 per day designated for housing and other living expenses.

Going through Aug. 31 would result in $504,000 in additional expenses. Even if a budget is passed, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said lawmakers could stay into mid-September to wrap up unfinished business on things like economic incentives and a Medicaid overhaul. The state Constitution or law doesn’t mandate when the legislature ends annually.

The extra costs are very small compared to the ultimate state budget, which will likely spend around $21 billion this year. The General Assembly set aside money for this year’s session through June 30 but can pay for extra days through unspent funds it holds, according to Wesley Taylor, the legislature’s controller.

Still, Democrats and their allies this week have criticized Republicans in charge of the legislature for failing to pass the budget on time, leaving school districts, particularly teacher assistants, in a lurch entering the school year. GOP leaders responded by pointing out Democrats passed budgets in late July and August when they were in charge.

Two-year budgets are written in odd-numbered years. Going back to 1995 under both Democratic and Republican rule, five two-year budgets have been enacted on June 30 or sooner and five occurred after. On average, the budget in those years has been enacted around July 26, according to a data review by The Associated Press.

Using July 26 as a starting date, the additional legislative costs are at $588,000 through Thursday and would exceed $1 million by the end of August.

Looking at those same odd-numbered years, the Legislature on average has completed its annual work session in mid-August. The 2001 session went until early December, marking the longest session in state history. The budget that year became law Sept. 26.

Moore and top Senate budget-writer Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said separately the two chambers were getting close toward agreeing on a bottom-line figure of which to spend for this year’s state government budget, perhaps by late Thursday. Then more line-item negotiations would begin next week.

“It’s better that we get a good product even if it takes a little longer, then to do a rush job on something that we can’t be proud of,” Moore said.

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