RALEIGH – Officially, today is fairly quiet in Raleigh – which usually means that something important is going on. General Assembly watchers hope that the external tranquility, perhaps shattered a bit by a 3 p.m. Senate Appropriations Committee meeting to consider infrastructure bonds and Medicaid reform bills, means that behind the scenes, the budget impasse is beginning to progress.
Last week the Senate took action and placed the ball firmly in the House’s hands by showing a willingness to compromise on several big-ticket items. Senate leaders said they would raise their top-line budget number to $21.65 billion, closer to the House’s $22.15 billion budget and in line with Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed spending target. They took some major policy items out of the budget entirely. They scaled back their efforts to reallocate sales tax revenue. They walked toward the House and Gov. McCrory’s position on economic development incentives (though there is plenty of distance between them yet). And the latest Medicaid reform bill also moves some toward McCrory and the House’s positions.
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville) took to the blogosphere Thursday to discuss what he called the “Gordian knot” of the budget negotiations, saying that “the last month has been spent by the House trying to understand all the policy in the budget and considering how to untie the knot without conceding some rather significant policy positions.” McGrady also took up the they-did-it-too line of argument, noting that even when Democrats controlled both Jones Street and Blount Street it was hard for them to pass a budget on time.
For his part, McCrory hasn’t been clamoring for the General Assembly to send him a budget post haste. Instead, he seems intent on using his political capital – and pressure from government and economic development groups around the state – to promote his “Connect NC” infrastructure bonds. He has signaled he’s okay with a bit of compromise, endorsing the House’s plan that keeps the $2.86 billion price tag the same but shifts more of the funding to infrastructure projects (such as construction and renovation projects at universities, community colleges and the N.C. Zoo) and away from highway projects. The House bond package passed that chamber 76-29 Thursday with bipartisan support – and bipartisan opposition. The Senate, which has come out strong in opposition to borrowing money for transportation spending, will discuss the plan in a committee meeting Monday afternoon.
In sum, this quiet start to the week could, like last week, end with more outward and visible signs of inward and substantive progress — which at this point means compromises, horse trading, and plain-old backing down.