N.C. Senate leaders hint at budget details

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Senate leader said Monday that he hopes to have a final budget to vote on this week.

Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said both chambers are working together to finalize the budget and he says he hopes the Senate will have a draft to consider by Thursday. Both he and House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, announced Saturday after a work session that there was an outline for a deal. The House and Senate have been caught in an impasse for weeks as they try to adjust spending in the second year of the two-year budget approved last summer.

“The speaker and I were able to have some productive and frank discussions. I credit him and his willingness to meet with me and work on these things,” Berger said. “They’re moving pretty quickly.”

The budget does include some changes to the pay structure for teachers, but Berger would not go into details.

“The thing that the Senate said was its No. 1 priority was a teacher raise and making sure the teacher pay plan was a play plan that represented reform in how we pay our teachers,” he said.

In response to a question about a 7 percent raise for teachers, a long-fought compromise between the chambers, Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said that the budget is tight, but will work. Some money to fund teacher pay raises and teacher assistant positions will come from non-recurring revenue sources, he said.

The budget also uses $25 million in non-recurring money from the lottery to preserve teacher assistant positions, he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory has previously said he would only support a 6 percent teacher pay raise and has criticized lawmakers for their handling of the budget. But Berger said Monday that he hopes McCrory can support the compromise. Staffers from the governor’s office have been asking questions and receiving information on the progress of the budget from legislative staffers, Berger said.

“I am confident once we have all of those pieces put together the governor will review it,” he said. “I would expect that he would be in a position to sign it. I think it’s going to be a good bill. I think folks when they see it will be pleased with what we’ve done.”

Berger said the budget does not include Medicaid reform. The Senate approved a Medicaid reform in a separate bill last week and took a final vote on it Monday. The plan would create a new state agency to oversee the program and introduce both private companies and provider-led health plans to manage how much the state spends on Medicaid patients statewide.

It will now be sent to the House, which will likely reject it and send it to a conference committee to come up with a compromise bill.