Seven weeks after a state budget was supposed to be finalized, leading Republicans have made a breakthrough in negotiations.
Leaders from the House and Senate emerged from a breakfast meeting at the Governor's Executive Mansion having agreed to an amount for the spending plan - $21.735 billion. That figure represents a middle ground between significantly different budget proposals passed by the House and Senate, earlier this year.
The compromise number is $260 million more than senators proposed and $420 million less than the House offering.
"I think the biggest difference now will probably still be education," said Harry Brown (R-Onslow), a lead budget writer in the Senate. "But at least we've got a starting point. Until you can agree on a number, it's hard to move forward. At least we've got that done now."
Presuming the number doesn't budget, policymakers will continue working through differences on teacher assistants, funding for DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), and how to provide raises for state employees.
Both sides have made concessions in recent weeks. The Senate pulled out policy measures addressing Medicaid and a sales tax redistribution plan from its proposal. House lawmakers agreed to spend less and consider job development grant money separate from budget negotiations.
Legislators recently agreed to a second extension so that government could continue operating as budget negotiations carried on. That self-imposed deadline expires in less than two weeks.
"I'm experienced enough in life to say nothing is impossible, but from what I've heard so far it's highly improbable. It takes this institution a while to move. It's a real stretch to get it done by August 31st; whenever it comes in it's going to be very disappointing," countered Dan Blue (D-Wake).
If the policy measures remain separate from the budget, lawmakers are expected to take those proposals up after a budget is complete. The budget is expected to come first and many still believe this legislative session will extend into the fall.