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Three reasons there’s no NC state budget yet — and two signs it might be here soon

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper delivers his State of the State address before a joint session of the North Carolina House and Senate on Monday, April 26, 2021 in Raleigh, N.C.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper delivers his State of the State address before a joint session of the North Carolina House and Senate on Monday, April 26, 2021 in Raleigh, N.C.

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The latest goal for a new North Carolina state budget becoming law is mid-October.

That’s much later than normal. Why is it so late?

Here are some things to know about why North Carolina doesn’t have a state budget yet and what’s left to play out:

1. There’s no deadline.

According to state law, when the budget is not passed by the start of the fiscal year, July 1, spending levels remain the same as the previous budget year. In short, the old budget rolls over.

2. There wasn’t a 2019 budget, either.

One reason that North Carolina is in such great fiscal shape and has a budget surplus is because spending levels remained low. The state passes a two-year budget, and in 2019 a full budget never became law. Instead, there was a months-long, dragged-out budget battle and stalemate between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-majority General Assembly. So a series of piecemeal budget bills were passed and signed into law by Cooper.

The final budget skirmish was in January 2020, seven months into the new fiscal year.

The leaders this time are all the same: Cooper, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

3. This budget is different.

All year, Cooper, Moore and Berger have pledged to work better together this time and get a budget into law. So that’s one of the reasons this process is dragging out again. There’s no stalemate right now. The chambers are working out their final budget agreement, and they will send that to Cooper before, not after, it comes to the floor for a vote. That’s a major change from last time.

4. The governor will get to see a General Assembly compromise budget soon.

Moore told reporters on Wednesday that the House and Senate hopes to send their compromise budget, called the conference budget, to Cooper next week.

That budget will be confidential, Moore said, “to give the governor an opportunity to say whether he will sign it as is, or if there are changes that he would like to see before he would sign it, and then to have those negotiations.”

The House and Senate have agreed on a package of tax cuts, but don’t want to make that public before negotiations with Cooper. Nor their proposed raises for teachers and other state employees. Nor anything else.

“And the reason to do it, frankly, on a confidential basis is to allow everyone to have a very frank and candid negotiation at that point in terms of the budget, and then try to get something done,” Moore said.

5. Redistricting awaits.

If the General Assembly had already passed a state budget, even if Cooper hadn’t signed or vetoed it yet, they would have been on a break right now.

Berger told reporters recently that he planned for a few weeks of session break between the budget and the legislature’s once-a-decade, post-Census process of redrawing political districts across the state.

But now those two things are running into each other.

“The goal right now is to have a budget finalized in the first week or second week of October. I think redistricting will probably follow the next week or so,” Moore said.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham, and has received the McClatchy President’s Award as well as several North Carolina Press Association awards, including for investigative reporting.

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