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Legislature passes third budget extension; Warren, Ford tire of delay

Legislators on Thursday gave themselves nearly three more weeks to pass a state budget that’s already two months late.

The House and Senate have passed a third continuing resolution, which keeps government funded at the same level. Previously, legislators had until Aug. 31 for a state budget. The newest, self-imposed deadline is Sept. 18. North Carolina’s state budget was originally due before July 1.

The budget contains spending measures for every facet of state government. The Rowan-Salisbury School System, and all other schools across the state, rely on the budget to definitively determine their own budget.

State leaders have made progress on finalizing a budget deal in recent weeks. On Aug. 18, Gov. Pat McCrory announced an agreement on the overall spending amount for state government — $21.735 billion. In a news release, McCrory said the budget deal came during a morning breakfast meeting at the governor’s Executive Mansion.

More progress came Wednesday, when House and Senate Republican leaders confirmed agreements on spending limits in specific sectors of state government. Beginning teacher pay has also been raised to $35,000. Spending in several other sectors of state government still remains undecided, as state leaders whittle down differences between House and Senate budget proposals.

Local legislators say they’ve begun to tire of the drawn-out budget process. Reps. Harry Warren, R-77, and Carl Ford, R-76, both said they wouldn’t vote for a fourth extension if it was proposed. On Thursday, however, legislators representing Rowan in both bodies voted for an extension. Few representatives in either house actually voted against an extension.

“I think that this week the negotiations have gotten a little more intense and serious,” Ford said. “Personally, I think it all should have been handled weeks ago, but I’m on the outside looking in, like most everyone is.”

Ford was the only one of Rowan’s legislators who wasn’t appointed as a budget conferee. However, the group of conferees haven’t met as a group yet.

Warren said legislators and state leaders could do a better job of projecting the state’s spending in future years.

The state’s budget is approved every two years during the legislature’s “long session.” During the short session, the legislature has previously made tweaks to state spending. Warren said legislators should be able to have a projected budget number coming into the long session and have budget writers work together from the start of the session.

“I think we’ve extended this as far as we need to,” Warren said. “I would be very resistant to voting for another extension.”

When asked if he would vote for another budget extension, Sen. Tom McInnis, R-25, said he doesn’t believe they’ll be another continuing resolution. McInnis said he’s seen significant progress in budget negotiations recently. With the most recent continuing resolution, legislators are scheduled to move into a third month of overtime on budget negotiations.

“If it takes three months to get it right, I’m for it,” McInnis said. “If they were wasting time, it would be a different story, but the leaders are spending significant time working to try and come up with a compromise, a middle ground, on our spending.”

When asked, Ford and Warren said state legislators are doing what voters elected them to do.

“We are absolutely doing the people’s work,” Warren said. “I think it’s better to put together a good budget than to pass something to meet a time deadline.”

House members and others had previously criticized the Senate for injecting policy measures, such as Medicaid reform and sales tax redistribution into the budget. Ford said new leadership in the legislature may also be a reason for a delay.

The most notable change in leadership was Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County. When Thom Tillis was elected to the U.S. Senate, it left an open Speaker of the House position. Moore was elected to Tillis’ former position.

“Just to be honest, I think it’s partially new leadership,” Ford said about the budget process. “A lot of them are learning and some of them are in their first year in some of the leadership positions. There’s a learning curve.”

State Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34, could not be reached for comment on the budget process.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

 

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