State budget probably a month away

By: - June 30, 2005 5:42 am

Wilson Daily Times
By Alex Keown Daily Times Staff Writer

Wrangling over North Carolina’s budget may take at least an additional four weeks, a state senator said Tuesday.

N.C. Sen. A.B. Swindell said the snags between House and Senate budget conference members over funding will delay passage of the $17 billion spending plan by at least a month. N.C. Reps. Jean Farmer Butterfield and Joe Tolson agreed with that estimate.

With the end of the state’s fiscal year looming Thursday, both chambers of the General Assembly will have to pass a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown, Swindell said.

"Everyone is diligent in trying to get this budget done," said Swindell, a Nashville Democrat. "There are snags over funding, but we’ve done fairly well in trying to reach conclusions. But there’s no chance we’ll be done by Thursday."

Tolson, a Pinetops Democrat, expects the House to pass a continuing resolution by Thursday morning in order to keep the government operating. He said despite the differences between the chambers, they’re not going to let the government shut down.

Swindell said it will take a minimum of a week in getting subcommittees in line, and then several more weeks to get the major committees in agreement.

There are several points of contention between the two legislative bodies, area legislators said. One of the sticking points is a half-cent sales tax that was expected to sunset this year. House members have proposed extending the temporary tax while the Senate makes the tax permanent.

Another disagreement is over the lottery, he said. The Senate originally included proceeds from a state lottery in its budget; however, the House did not include a lottery.

Another sticking point has to do with raises for state employees. Differences remain about how much of a percentage increase the employees should receive.

Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat, said although House and Senate members want to support similar programs, it comes down to the level of funding.

Butterfield, who is on the Health and Human Services Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, said HHS is going to be underfunded by about $53 million unless new revenue is raised.

"We need new revenues, which brings in that half-cent sales tax," Butterfield said.

The Senate wants to let an income tax increase on people making more than $200,000 annually expire. The House unanimously voted to reject the deal, Butterfield said.

"That would leave the working families to take care of all our funding problems," she said.

Swindell said he doesn’t see too many spending disagreements over education. He said both senators and representatives realize the state has to spend money on disadvantaged students. Tolson, who worked on education funding on the House side, agreed. He said the conferees have made progress in the education portion of the budget. He said they agree more often than disagree about funding.

Both chambers will try to hash out differences again today. The narrow Democratic majority in the House also could come into play. Butterfield said Republican members of the House will probably not support the budget measure because of the taxes, which means 61 of 63 Democrats in the House will have to support it.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066