State budget battle remains in limbo

Friday, June 27, 2014
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You might think with state Republicans completely ruling the roost in Raleigh, getting things done in, say, the short session, would be a piece of cake.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- You might think with state Republicans completely ruling the roost in Raleigh, getting things done in, say, the short session, would be a piece of cake. Turns out, not so much. "Republican" - of course - is an umbrella term and there is a lot going on underneath that umbrella right now.

For starters, the dynamics between the House, Senate, and Gov. Pat McCrory are complicated. House Speaker Thom Tillis is running for U.S. Senate (against incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan) and could really use a teacher pay raise come November.

"He has to deliver some sort of teacher raise," says liberal advocate Rob Schofield, "some sort of saving face accomplishments."

Tillis has teamed up with McCrory on a plan to give teachers 5 percent raises but McCrory didn't invite Senate leadership to the press conference where they announced the plan -- a snipe that didn't go unnoticed by Senate President Pro-Temp Phil Berger's staff.

Berger has been pushing his own education plan and it looks very different from the plan advanced in the House.

As Schofield puts it, "there's an ego battle going on between the Senate President, the House Speaker who's running for Senate, and a governor who's trying to establish himself as a real player in the debate."

With that as a backdrop, consider what still hasn't gotten done in Raleigh: the budget, the teacher pay bill, and the coal ash clean-up bill; all of which, Tillis and Berger established as priorities going into session and can't agree on now.

Still, some conservatives welcome the idea that Republicans could go home for the summer without passing a new budget. They don't need to. The state is halfway through a two year budget cycle and they could let the existing budget ride.

"If they go home tomorrow, it just means they don't spend any more money than was already allocated last year," said Francis De Luca, with the conservative Civitas Foundation. "The new budget actually spends more money than was in the budget for next year. As a conservative, the less they spend the better. If they went home it would not be the worst thing that could happen."

But there are political and practical reasons for Republicans to get a budget done. There are millions of dollars in tweaks that need to be made to the budget or problems down the road could be compacted. Medicaid is - again - an issue with cost overruns that lawmakers need to account for. And teacher pay raises, which would ordinarily be worked into the budget, are being considered in a separate spending bill, confusing many over how it would work.

Schofield says if none of that gets done, it will look terrible for Republicans in an election year.

"The legislature could go home tomorrow and state government would continue to work, but it would raise the question of, 'what have they been doing here for the last month and a half?' No coal ash plan, no budget, some other important areas that haven't been ironed out," said Schofield.

De Luca, though, is far less convinced that anything happening in Raleigh right now will have an effect in November.

"The fact is, no one is really paying attention to this other than a few people here inside the Beltline in Raleigh," said De Luca. "The rest are off on vacation, their kids are in summer camp. No one is paying attention to what's going on here."

What's more, De Luca points out, it's early yet, compared to when Democrats had the run of the place.

"Today is June 27 and we're talking about a budget being done. If you went back four years, we'd be talking about this August 27," he said.

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