Agreement on budget remains elusive

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Lawmakers have yet to reach agreement on a state budget nearly two weeks into the new fiscal year.

N.C. House negotiators canceled a budget negotiation meeting Friday after N.C. Senate leaders said they would not attend. The Republican leaders of the two chambers remain at odds over the final adjustments needed to be made to the second year of the two-year state budget.

Tensions escalated Thursday when Senate Republicans walked out of a meeting room after their House counterparts brought in local school leaders to speak in support of their position to preserve funds for teacher assistants.

Gov. Pat McCrory then raised the ante by announcing he would veto any budget plan that included the Senate’s proposal for an 11 percent pay increase for state teachers. McCrory is siding again with the House and its latest plan, which would raise teacher salaries by 6 percent.

The Senate’s original budget plan cut $233 million for 7,400 teacher assistants to help fund the teachers’ raises. That plan also would tighten Medicaid eligibility requirements that could affect coverage for 15,000 older adults and people with disabilities. Senate leaders’ latest offer would set aside $171 million for House leaders to plug holes in teacher assistant funds or to shore up Medicaid.

Another public budget meeting is scheduled for Monday, and leaders of both chambers continue to say they believe compromise is possible. But Senate leaders vow that they will not back down from their insistence on an 11 percent teacher pay hike – no matter what the costs to other state programs and services the governor and House leaders claim that will bring.

House Speaker Thom Tillis on Friday raised the possibility that the legislature may adjourn for the year without approving any budget adjustments. It’s not difficult to sense his frustration after watching his counterparts first walk out of one meeting then refuse to attend another.