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State budget: Public facing is short, behind the scenes long

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(The Center Square) – Combined, it was less than 15 minutes North Carolina lawmakers were gaveled into session Monday. Behind the scenes, hours of work was happening.

By Friday, the state could have its biennial budget from the General Assembly. The $60.7 billion plans of both chambers, arrived at through varying paths, are significantly less than the more than $67.1 billion proposed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper’s signature on the fiscal plan is tied to Medicaid expansion, meaning a veto is hardly assured. Since Republicans in April gained a super majority in the House to render the governor into lame duck status his final 20 months in office, the Nash County native has freely used his position for bullying and rallying liberal causes, including now teasing a veto of this state budget.

Republicans in the House of Representatives caucused on Monday to gauge support for a budget that doesn’t include casinos. Weeks of speculation about a proposal to legalize four spread across the state hasn’t gained as much support as Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, would like before his chamber votes.

Moore said during floor session last Tuesday that votes to include the budget are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Senate has similar plans.

In addition to casinos, negotiations involve other gaming, taxpayer funding for the business-led nonprofit NCInnovation, and income tax reductions.

Funding for NCInnovation, which seeks a $1.4 billion endowment to bring UNC System research to the market, is among spending that has not yet been finalized, according to chamber leaders. The Senate budget proposes to fund the full request, while budgets from the House and Cooper offer $50 million. A compromise of $500 million over two years could be in the works, according to multiple reports.

Cooper’s budget included 18% pay raises and bonuses for teachers, 8% pay raises for state employees, and the elimination of tax cuts for residents who earn more than $200,000 per year.

Moore announced weeks ago Republicans have settled on “significant” raises for state employees and teachers retroactive to July 1, as well as other priorities including a finance package and tax cuts. Details on how North Carolinians’ tax dollars will be spent have not leaked out.

The Senate suggested a 4.5% increase for teachers over two years, while the House proposed 7.5%. A compromise is expected to fall between the two. The Senate tax plan would accelerate cuts to 4.5% in 2024 and to 2.49% by 2030, faster than the House’s plan to get to 4.5%. Legislative leaders have said the exact number would depend on whether efforts to boost revenues with casinos are successful.

Once a conference report on the budget is finalized, lawmakers will cast votes in each chamber over two days without amendments. Once it reaches the governor’s office, it can be allowed to become law with no signature in 10 days, signed or vetoed.

If vetoed, each chamber can challenge with an override vote and would need three-fifths majority – 30 in the Senate and 72 in the House – to be successful. Both chambers have to be in agreement. Cooper has vetoed 91 pieces of legislation since taking office in January 2017, including 16 this session and previous appropriations acts in 2017 (overridden), 2018 (overridden) and 2019.

Cooper signed his first state budget Nov. 18, 2021 and his second on July 11, 2022.

North Carolina adopts its two-year budget in odd-numbered years, typically adjusting spending with a smaller budget bill in even-numbered years. It must be balanced, per the state constitution. If no new budget is passed, the most recently approved document remains in place.

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