- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - After a three-month budget stalemate in 2015 that also pulled substantial proposals on taxes, Medicaid and economic incentives into already complicated negotiations, House and Senate Republicans insist they aren’t staying in Raleigh all summer long.

North Carolina budget talks look to be a cakewalk compared to a year ago, when GOP leaders in the two chambers had to whittle down nearly $700 million in spending differences in competing plans before even working out policy details. They didn’t get a final budget to Gov. Pat McCrory until mid-September, eight months after the session opening.

Since this year’s session began April 25, both chambers already have agreed on spending limit of a little over $22.2 billion for the new fiscal year starting July 1. The House rolled out their budget last week, passing it with plenty of bipartisan support. The Senate aims to pass a budget in the first days of June.

Teacher and state employee pay improvements and the timing of income tax breaks - for now - seem to be the only major sticking points ahead in crafting a final plan to present to GOP Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature. Few other topics are pressing legislators to address this year.

“We were here so long last year, I think everybody’s just trying to get this thing done and let’s get on out,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, also a chief budget writer.

“Hopefully nothing will keep us here past July 1,” added House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

Budget negotiations during even-numbered years usually are easier because only the second year of the two-year spending plan approved the previous year is being adjusted. Revenues are projected this year $330 million above expectations - 1.5 percent higher - so neither major cuts are required nor big spending increases are possible.

Both Moore and Brown said the two chambers are aiming to reach McCrory’s goal of raising average public school teacher pay above $50,000, but it’d occur over two years, not by this fall as McCrory sought in his budget proposal.

The House budget proposed average 4.1 percent pay increases for teachers covering those with at least five years’ experience. McCrory’s proposal offered average 5 percent raises that covered teachers with up to 24 years of experience, with larger one-time bonuses than what the House offered. The Senate will have its own pay plan.

For most rank-and-file state employees, the House proposed a 2 percent raise and $500 bonuses. Brown said the Senate favors McCrory’s strategy to target raises for workers in certain high-demand fields.

On taxes, House and Senate Republicans back an effort to raise the standard deduction for income tax filers by $1,000 to $2,000, depending on filing status. While the House budget phases in the increases annually to 2020, the Senate wants to complete the jump by 2017. The Senate tax plan would reduce available revenues to spend in next year’s budget by $145 million, compared to $25 million in the House plan.

But Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said recent tax surpluses belong to the taxpayers. “There is no reason to delay this four years,” he said. McCrory offered no tax cut in his budget, created based on earlier revenue projections.

There will be some other differences. Senate Republicans sound skeptical of the House plan to forego hiring additional first-grade teachers this fall, as the two-year budget directs, and instead essentially funneling that money to hire literacy coaches in early grades.

“The Senate is going to keep its commitment to lowering classroom sizes and insuring that we have enough teachers to prepare our students,” said Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, an education budget writer.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide