Lawmakers in last-minute moves over N.C. budget

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — Legislative budget-writers struggled Wednesday to finalize an annual spending document for North Carolina four days after leading lawmakers announced a deal and a day after describing its main points.

Chief Senate budget negotiator Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said a final document would not be complete until late Wednesday. Senators planned to hold the first of two days of budget votes on Thursday. The House may take until Saturday for its final vote.

The budget is nearly a month overdue; the new fiscal year began July 1.

Legislators also are shaping plans that could extend their annual session for weeks or months. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said lawmakers, who in even-numbered years usually shut down their two-year session after wrapping up the budget, may resume the session in about two weeks. Under the state Constitution, continuing the session would give Gov. Pat McCrory 10 days, rather than 30, to decide whether to veto the spending plan.

Lawmakers also are talking privately about adjourning the session until after November's election and then returning to discuss ways to restructure the state Medicaid program. Senate Republicans favor one method, and McCrory and the House another.

Asked about that timeline, Berger said: "Sounds like a good idea."

WRAL first reported that lawmakers were thinking about delaying the Medicaid discussion until later this year.

The state spends $3.5 billion annually to treat 1.7 million Medicaid recipients, and the program has had almost annual cost overruns for years. Efforts to revamp the program to hold down costs were removed from the budget legislation so they could be tackled later.

The Senate wanted both private, for-profit companies and hospital-led health plans to compete for contracts to serve patients. The state would give health plans a set amount of money based on the number of Medicaid patients in the regions. The House and McCrory would limit managed care to smaller networks run by hospitals and doctors.

The 2014-15 budget includes a 1 percent cut in Medicaid provider reimbursement but eligibility will stay the same, said chief House budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake. The Senate had proposed eliminating Medicaid eligibility for more than 15,000 people.

The $21.25 billion budget also gives an average 7 percent raise for teachers who are now among the lowest paid nationally, and preserves teacher assistant positions. The budget also maintains funding for the public university system and gives most state employees a $1,000 annual raise and five extra vacation days, legislative leaders said.



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