RALEIGH – A meeting called by Gov. Pat McCrory of top legislative brass may have yielded a breakthrough in budget negotiations, according to insiders close to the process. Late last week McCrory called the negotiators to the table, including State Budget Director Lee Roberts, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), House Appropriations Chair Nelson Dollar (R-Wake), and majority leaders Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford) and Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) for what some say was the “first truly substantive” discussion on the budget figures.
Budget conferees have been working behind closed doors since late June trying to find middle ground on the details of a state budget. Two continuing resolutions later, there appeared to be little movement on the biggest divide; the total budget price tag. Two weeks ago, Senate leaders announced that they would remove policy measures from their budget in exchange for agreement from the House on a firm $21.65 billion spending limit. The House was originally at just over $22 billion with the Senate at $21.5 billion.
One of the policy measures the Senate agreed to pull out of the budget and run separately is its sales tax redistribution proposal. The plan would change the sales tax distribution formula, splitting all sales tax revenue 50/50 between counties with higher populations and the counties where the money was generated.
However in an informal headcount, nearly all members of the House Republican caucus could not support it, saying it was unfair to the tourist areas that rely on sales tax income. Currently, the majority of counties’ sale tax revenue stays where it is collected. Mecklenburg County is among those larger, wealthier counties that would be impacted.
Now, as the halls of the Legislative Building are relatively quiet and the legislative leadership is getting down to the details in small conference rooms, the groups whose funding hinges on the outcome are getting nervous. Wake County Public Schools leaders say they don’t know how much they’ll get for Driver’s Ed, causing the county’s primary contractor for driving instruction to suspend classes yesterday. A pre-recorded phone message on Jordan Driving School’s main number gives House and Senate contact information and encourages parents to call their legislators to lobby for maintaining driver education funding.
“Until a decision is made by our North Carolina legislators, no more registrations may be accepted,” the recording says. “In the Senate’s proposed version of the North Carolina budget, funding for the Driver Education program was eliminated. This change to legislation will affect 135,000 students annually across North Carolina. Contact your legislators immediately to speak on behalf of the North Carolina Driver Education program and ask them not to eliminated funding for your students.”
With the deadline now extended to August 31 by a second Continuing Resolution, legislators say they are feeling the heat and believe that they are in the short rows before a final budget announcement comes.