RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina House and Senate Republicans still unable to settle on a dollar figure for spending threatened on Thursday to go their separate ways on how to develop a state government budget.
GOP leaders in the two chambers remain well apart on a spending limit for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. Such an agreement has been a precursor before actual budget proposals surface.
The impasse has delayed the budget process for weeks and threatens to tread a path for state government somewhat similar to what happened in 2019, when an array of agency spending bills, rather than one omnibus measure, were considered.
Two years ago, that happened because Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and GOP lawmakers were in a stalemate. Right now, the hang-up involves only the legislative chambers, but it could produce the same result.
Senate leader Phil Berger said he and other GOP leaders presented to House counterparts what he called their “highest and best offer” on spending levels, and the House responded with a “number that was much higher than that.”
“We have told them that we are not going to move from the number,” Berger told reporters.
Since by tradition it's the Senate's turn to approve a biennial budget proposal first and send it over to the House, no action has occurred. Berger said that unless there's an agreement soon, the Senate will start approving piecemeal spending plans by mid-June and send them to the House.
“I do not at this point anticipate it will be a traditional budget,” he said. “They will be measures that appropriate dollars for the functions of state government."
House Speaker Tim Moore told colleagues earlier Thursday that he's running out of patience with the Senate. House budget committees held meetings this week and will again next week.
If appreciable progress hasn't been made with Senate Republicans by the end of next week, Moore said, the House will start writing a comprehensive budget bill without waiting for the Senate.
“We will have a House budget and we’ll have something for you to vote up or down,” said Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican and a chief budget-writer.
Broadly speaking, Cooper and the two chambers all want to spend between roughly $25 billion and $27.5 billion next year, with the numbers floating based on what's counted. Cooper's proposal from March spends more than either the House or Senate Republicans want.
Cooper could issue vetoes on any of the spending bills as a way to try to bring all of them to the negotiating table to hammer out a final package or series of measures.
"This is a three-way street in order to be able to get a budget,” Cooper said Tuesday at the monthly Council of State meeting he presides over. There is no threat of a government shutdown without a budget come July 1 because state law directs spending to continue at base levels.
The differing avenues all but ensure that hopes of the legislature completing its primary work session by within the next month or so. When the House and Senate couldn't agree immediately on a spending figure in 2015, a two-year budget wasn't enacted until mid-September.
"I think it does lead to a longer summer," Berger said, “butI think we’re probably past that milepost already.”