Budget Showdown: House and Senate get to brass tacks

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) discusses the Senate budget plan (June, 2015)
Credit: Chris Potter

Credit: Chris Potter

RALEIGH – With the June 30 end of the fiscal year looming, the General Assembly has posted light floor calendars today because the heavy lift will be in the budget conference committees. With both chambers passing their versions of the two-year budget, the Senate most recently on Thursday, insiders say the two plans are miles apart and the process is likely to be contentious and months long.

The Senate calls its $21.5 billion,  500+ page budget a reflection of true conservative values; lower spending, increased savings by putting $500 million in the state’s rainy day fund, lower personal corporate and personal income taxes to spur growth, fewer regulations, and creating a board to run Medicaid. That philosophy is reflected in more than the money allotments. The Senate budget contains policy changes that were not considered by the House. Those policy moves, and the fact that they sped the bill through the body in one week, indicates to many that they are not planning to meet the House halfway on most issues.

“Senate Republicans have passed a responsible budget that invests hundreds of millions of dollars in high teacher pay and smaller class-sizes, all while providing substantial tax relief to working families and small businesses,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) discusses the Senate budget plan

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) discusses the Senate budget plan

The House’s $22.2 billion budget, passed in May, spends about $700 million more than the Senate and about 5 percent more than the current budget. It allocates $200 million for both the Rainy Day Fund and repairs to state buildings. It also includes a 2 percent across-the-board raise for all state employees and more for new teachers as a retention effort. The House also puts more money in for textbooks. They too call their budget “responsible,” saying it honors the state’s promises to teachers and other employees.

“Both budgets bring the starting salary for teachers from $33,000 to $35,000 and that’s a good step in the process, since the majority of our teachers have eight years of experience or less,” said House Education Chairman Jeffery Elmore (R-Wilkes).

However, the chambers are much further apart in the final education price tag; the House proposes spending approximately $400 million more on public education than the Senate. School systems across the state are watching the budget process closely, including the largest system, Wake County, which plans to discuss budget implications in Monday evening’s Government Relations Committee meeting.

In a press conference, Speaker Tim Moore said the House is in no hurry adjourn. “We’ll be here as long as we need to be,” he said.

Both chambers will need to pass a continuing resolution to keep the state government operating past the end of the fiscal year on June 30.