Gov. Pat McCrory met behind closed doors with both the State House and Senate GOP caucuses Thursday to talk about state budget issues and his $2.85 billion bond proposal.
In somewhat of a rare move, the governor met with the House GOP during a 45-minute caucus meeting Thursday morning but dodged the gaggle of press outside the door. He did the same with the Senate GOP caucus later in the afternoon.
Senate leader Phil Berger spoke with reporters after saying McCrory took questions from lawmakers and primarily discussed “the budget, economic development and the bonds.”
McCrory “expressed some concerns he has about where we are. He expressed his thoughts on what we ought to do, and he took some questions and responded to the questions, I thought, appropriately,” Berger said.
In recent weeks, McCrory has stepped up the promotion of a $1.37 billion highway bond and a $1.48 billion infrastructure bond that he wants to see on the election ballot this November.
“We have been aiming to have bond legislation passed by mid-August,” said Melanie Jennings, spokeswoman for the governor’s Office of State Budget and Management. “If we do not meet this target, it becomes much more difficult to have the referendum on the November ballot.”
The governor calls his bond plan “Connect NC,” which executes the goals he laid out and has been pushing since his February State of the State address.
While both chambers have been receptive to the idea of the infrastructure bond, the Senate continues to push back on the highway bond while pointing to its own plan to fund highway and bridge construction laid out in its budget.
“The overall feeling of the Senate is that when we eliminate the highway fund transfers, that puts about a billion back into transportation over four years,” said Sen. Warren Daniel, co-chairman of the Senate transportation standing committee.
“A lot of members of the Senate are reluctant to borrow money,” he said Thursday after the caucus meeting with McCrory. “We could borrow a billion right away with the bond. But we spent the past few years trying to get the state out of debt. There is concern in reversing course on that and getting into debt.”
The Senate budget plan is to stop the yearly transfer of $216 million in gas tax receipts to the state’s non-transportation General Fund.
It would keep that money for the Department of Transportation and use most of it to increase capital spending by about $170 million a year – enough to pay for 60 or 70 additional new highway projects.
“The one that has more support in the Senate is the infrastructure bond,” Daniel said. “That has a greater possibility of reaching a consensus with the House.”
Sens. Tom Apodaca and Bob Rucho, Senate Rules Committee chairman and Senate Finance Committee co-chair respectively, have both indicated they see a higher likelihood of the infrastructure bond coming to fruition than the highway bond.
Daniel added that Thursday’s discussions with the governor were helpful in moving the House and Senate toward a budget compromise.
Earlier this week, McCrory criticized his Republican colleagues in the General Assembly for “slipping things into the budget from bills that they couldn’t get the votes individually.”
“That is wrong,” the governor said Monday on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks. “These items should be voted as separate bills individually so people can discuss them and know them and hear them. This is where it puts me as governor at a major disadvantage because I don’t have line-item veto.”