House Speaker Tim Moore’s Twitter account had an optimistic announcement Tuesday morning: The legislature’s long-delayed budget would be released Wednesday or Thursday.
It didn’t take long for that prediction to be revised.
“It will take central staff a couple of days to log updates once a final agreement is reached,” the follow-up tweet cautioned. “We hope to have a Conference Report by end of this week.”
Later in the day, Moore jokingly blamed his press secretary for the tweets and offered a less sunny update.
“The list of differences is starting to narrow, but the differences remaining are still quite significant,” he said.
More than a week after the Senate agreed to fund teacher assistants and driver’s ed – two major spending priorities for the House – the two sides haven’t yet agreed on the terms for the compromise.
Thousands of teacher assistants have begun the school year with an uncertain future – the original Senate budget had called for cutting about 5,000 positions to instead hire more teachers and lower class sizes. And while the Senate is now willing to fund teacher assistants, its leaders want to ban school districts from using the money for other purposes.
Moore said some negotiators favor giving school districts flexibility to spend the money on teacher positions, but not everyone is in agreement after a long weekend of talks.
“There are those who even have an objection to that, they think it should be just TAs,” he said. “It’s a matter of trying to finesse it and come up with something that’s agreeable to the two sides. That’s still unresolved.”
Senate budget writer Harry Brown said several other education issues remain unsettled. Among them is language governing the Read to Achieve program, which provides extra help to third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level.
“On the money side, most of the issues have to be worked out,” Brown said. “It’s provisions (detailing how the money will be spent) that there still are some issues.”
Budget negotiators have forwarded some of those disagreements to Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, who were scheduled to discuss them in a private meeting Tuesday afternoon. They’re responsible for making a deal when their chambers’ budget writers hit a stalemate.
Moore wouldn’t comment on his agenda with Berger Tuesday. “There’s a number (of disagreements), but just like I’d imagine Sen. Berger won’t comment on specifics, I’d rather not either,” he said.
And while Moore and Berger both said progress was made over Labor Day weekend, there apparently weren’t any breakthroughs on tax issues. The Senate has sought to lower personal income tax rates, but the House hasn’t approved any major tax changes.
“We’re not very close on tax policy right now,” Moore said, adding that those issues could get left out of the budget deal. “Having a tax plan is not critical to the budget passing.”
He said House leaders have agreed on $110 million in tax cuts, a change the Senate demanded to offset Division of Motor Vehicle fee hikes. But the details of the tax cuts aren’t resolved.
One area where agreement has been reached this week deals with grants for film productions. Both chambers’ negotiators agreed Tuesday to $30 million a year in grants to lure film-makers to North Carolina. That’s triple the size of the current program, and is the amount the House sought.
“I think we can now say that North Carolina’s film industry is officially back open for business,” said Rep. Ted Davis, a Wilmington Republican.
Once legislative leaders resolve the remaining disagreements, staffers will need a day or two to draft the compromise budget bill. And because the bill must be publicly released at least 72 hours before the House votes, the budget likely won’t be finalized until next week at the earliest.
The current temporary budget expires Sept. 18, and legislators say they hope they won’t need a fourth deadline extension.
“We’ll probably be working late every night this week,” Brown said.