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Patrick Gannon: 10 reasons for late-night budget releases in Raleigh

RALEIGH — Oops, they did it again.

Senate Republican leaders released their $22.2 billion budget for 2016-17 to the public through the General Assembly website at 11:52 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, about nine hours before its initial consideration by senators on the Appropriations Committee.

Two days and a few minutes later, just after midnight on Friday morning, the full Senate approved the spending plan on a party-line vote, setting up negotiations between the House and Senate on a final plan to send to Gov. Pat McCrory.

That Tuesday afternoon, Senate leaders called a press conference to tout the teacher raises, tax cuts and other highlights of their budget proposal, with one key document missing: the actual budget, which would be posted to www.ncleg.net about eight hours later.

It’s not the first time a late-night budget release has occurred in recent memory, and it probably won’t be the last. In years covering General Assembly budgets, I’ve yet to hear a legitimate reason why budgets must be released in such a fashion and voted on hours later.

With that in mind, here are 10 possible reasons — some serious, some not so much — that legislators release their budgets when most working people are asleep. I’ll let you decide the real reasons, because I simply don’t know.

10. By 11:52 p.m., 11 p.m. TV news broadcasts are over and newspapers have gone to press, ensuring that first-day media coverage is based on the highlights promoted by Senate Republicans during the 4 p.m. press conference, not on any budget proposals that could be roundly criticized.

9. They derive pleasure out of scrolling through Twitter and reading all of the tweets from lobbyists, journalists and others who are furiously refreshing the General Assembly website hoping the budget will appear.

8. Democrats rolled out budgets in similar fashion when they were in power, too. An “eye for an eye” is in the Bible, you know.

7. Democrats won’t have enough time to read it and propose good amendments by the next morning, and the general public will have little time to mount any significant opposition, which, of course, would disrupt the democratic process.

6. They need to make sure budget copies have cooled sufficiently from the printer because they would never want to burn their colleagues in the Democratic Party.

5. They want to give Democrats those extra eight minutes on Tuesday night to read the budget, just like they gave committee members five minutes to read House Bill 2.

4. General Assembly staffers need more time to proofread the budget documents and prepare them for release, and they never complete that task during daytime hours.

3. Legislators, lobbyists, journalists and everyone else who cares what’s in the state budget are all well-trained in speed reading. It’s no big deal.

2. They want to release the budget late at night to get everyone’s sleep patterns sufficiently messed up so their bodies will be ready when the Senate takes the second required budget vote just after midnight a couple of days later.

1. Because they can.

Patrick Gannon is the editor of The Insider State Government News Service in Raleigh. Reach him at pgannon@ncinsider.com.



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