As Schools Prepare to Open, Still No Budget Agreement
Lawmakers are growing increasingly pessimistic about their chances of reaching a budget deal by August 14th, when the current continuing resolution ends and almost 45 days since their original deadline. This is especially worrisome for school districts who face wildly different budget scenarios and are being given no ability to plan.
Several top Republican lawmakers say they likely won’t reach a budget deal by an Aug. 14 deadline – a delay that will prolong uncertainty for public schools and other agencies that depend on state funding.
Since the last fiscal year ended June 30, the state has been operating under a temporary budget that keeps government running at current spending levels.
But the House and Senate budget writers tasked with negotiating a permanent spending agreement haven’t met yet, prompting a rebuke from Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca during a floor speech Wednesday.
Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, called on the House’s top budget writers to meet soon with their Senate counterparts. He criticized the House for instead conducting public hearings to discuss differences between the two budget bills, including a two-hour meeting Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re too busy going over our budget to sit down with us and discuss the differences – I guess they haven’t found those out yet – and negotiate and move forward,” Apodaca said. “I’d like to encourage the House appropriations team to join with the rest of us, and let’s get home before Labor Day.”
Rep. Chuck McGrady, also from Hendersonville, is one of the House budget co-chairs. He noted that finance chairmen from both chambers have already met to discuss taxes and revenues.
“We really can’t go down the budget road until we go down the finance road,” he said, adding that Senate budget co-chairman Harry Brown’s absence this week has prevented a meeting. “I don’t believe there’s any lack of willingness to hold meetings.”
McGrady said he expects an additional temporary budget will be needed because the talks will continue past Aug. 14. Apodaca was a bit more optimistic, saying prospects for a mid-August agreement are “looking not too good, but I think we can get there.”
The legislature hasn’t extended budget talks past mid-August in at least a decade. That’s when the school year starts in many counties, and school districts are already hiring teachers and teacher assistants without knowing how much money they’ll have.
“The districts are on a wait-and-see basis,” said Ed Dunlap, executive director of the N.C. School Boards Association. “They don’t know how many teaching positions or teacher assistant positions they’re going to have to fill. It’s really a guessing game.”