Governor, N.C. Senate Republicans talk about budget

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory and Senate Republicans met privately Tuesday as they sought to resolve their differences over budget adjustments supposed to be settled three weeks ago, but the gulf between elected leaders remained wide on key issues.

McCrory’s office and a top budget negotiator confirmed the governor visited the Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday morning for about 90 minutes.

The GOP governor and Senate Republicans haven’t seen eye-to-eye on the size of teacher pay raises, the future of teacher assistants and Medicaid. McCrory had reached out late last week to Sen. Harry Brown, the chief budget negotiator, for a meeting.

“The dialogue was good. I think there’s maybe a better understanding on where we both come from,” Brown, R-Onslow, said after the meeting. “I’m not sure there was any agreement of any kind made at this point, but at least I think we were able to air out those differences.

McCrory’s office didn’t respond to an email request seeking comment about the meeting’s content. Brown said McCrory and senators offered some potential compromises.

The governor prefers the House’s ideas on these issues and previously threatened to veto any budget containing the Senate’s proposals. McCrory and Senate leaders have criticized each other in recent weeks.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said later Tuesday his chamber would stick to its latest public offer that would raise teacher salaries by more than 8 percent on average. But it would also cut funding for teacher assistants in third-grade classrooms. Earlier offers had cut assistants in second and third grades.

House Republicans offered a 6 percent raise for teachers in its last public offer, with no loss of teacher assistant positions.

An updated House offer sent privately to Senate counterparts late last week would raise the average teacher raise by 7 percent, with some trade-offs, according to Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the chamber’s chief negotiator.

Dollar said those trade-offs include lowering proposed raises for local public school administrators and certain district staff, as well as requiring $25 million in spending reductions within the University of North Carolina system, up from its original total of nearly $20 million. Teacher assistant positions would be retained and Medicaid rolls wouldn’t be trimmed — two key House demands.

“The important thing for the House is to ensure that educators in the classroom are not cut and that we do not cut eligibility for aged, blind and disabled citizens in our state,” Dollar said in an interview. Berger declined to discuss what was considered a private offer from the House.

The House and Senate are trying to adjust spending in the second year of the two-year budget approved last summer. That budget is currently being used to operate state government, so it’s possible they could adjourn for the year without an agreement. There are several pending pieces of legislation unrelated to the budget.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, wants a budget agreement but has suggested several times this month that the legislature could go home without a budget deal. He said the Senate and House should at least raise the minimum base state salary for new teachers to $33,000 this fall and $35,000 in fall 2015, as legislative leaders and McCrory pledged to do in February.

Other colleagues aren’t giving up on a full budget deal.

“We have no intention of going home before we get a budget,” Berger said.

Added Dollar: “We certainly hope that it can be resolved.”