From Bill Moss in today’s Hendersonville Lightning…
McGrady sees long slog to budget deal
It’s not August, but Chuck McGrady is feeling the dog days of the North Carolina Legislature.
The pace of the General Assembly — which went home for a week after adopting a measure that keeps the state running for a month and a half — can be a grind. When the Legislature extends its work into August or beyond, it’s easy for many legislators “because they sleep in their own bed and they can see their constituents,” he said. “When you’re four hours away, trying to be a representative, it’s hard.”
When the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution to fund state government, McGrady came home and found he was busier than ever catching up with voters and listening to their fears and demands. Lots of constituents wanted to meet with McGrady — nonprofits alarmed about a Senate proposal to eliminate their sales tax exemption, hospitals concerned about deregulation that would clear the way for stand-alone surgery clinics, educators wondering what the budget would bring and when there might be one.
“I probably met with every nonprofit and every medical provider other than all the doctors in the last week,” McGrady said.
The third-term state House member has risen fast. He’s one of four chairs of the House Appropriations Committee, putting him in a leadership role in how the General Assembly shapes. Although he enjoys having a voice and being in the room where the big decisions are made, he’s expecting the workload to be heavy for weeks longer.
“In an ideal world the budget is just about money but the Senate threw us a very difficult ball” by including major policy changes, he said. “I’m not saying there’s no policy in the House budget but there’s very little.”
In contrast, the Senate sent over a budget that includes “its whole Medicaid reform, all the economic development restructuring (and) the education policy and on top of that all the tax reform stuff is in the (Senate) budget.”
The House will formally reject the Senate budget — sending the bill to a conference committee that must agree on everything. Given the magnitude of the policy changes, the money issues and the wide gap between the two chambers, McGrady is pessimistic about a quick resolution.
“We’ve got an Aug. 14 deadline,” he said. “I’ll work toward that date but I don’t expect to make it.”
Labor Day is a dim prospect, he added.
“I tell people that I’m beginning to think about what my Halloween costume will be like when I’m trick-or-treating in Raleigh,” he said. “There’s just way too many issues caught up in this budget.”
McGrady sees things as one of 120 — one of the House leaders trying to guide a body that is by definition more parochial than the 50-member Senate.
“Most of my House colleagues don’t think that they can deal with all of the policy and funding differences in a few weeks, but my sense is that the Senate optimistically thinks a budget can be negotiated more quickly,” he said in a newsletter before the Legislature booted the whole thing till after the July 1 start of the state’s fiscal year. “The House has a lot more members, and House leaders know that it just will take longer to deal with the wide range of differences. While senators have differences of opinions on issues like tax reform, the Senate has a lot fewer members and historically, whether under Democratic and Republican leadership, is able to come together quicker.”
McGrady’s rise in the House has cast him as a potential counterweight to Sen. Tom Apodaca, who as Rules Committee chair occupies the powerful traffic cop role in the senior chamber.
“Henderson County is lucky to have two people in leadership but unfortunately with the cultures of the two chambers it could be very very difficult for Tom and I” to agree on the budget and the many policy differences.
What divides them?
“I think the answer is what are you not divided on,” he said. “The Senate doesn’t like teaching assistants so they roll back teaching assistants substantially. The Senate has no (state employee) pay raise in their proposal. There some really fundamental differences on money and that’s not getting to the issues like education reform or how we ought to do economic development.”
Apodaca, preparing for a family wedding this weekend, was not available for an interview.
McGrady served as national president of the Sierra Club. He’s been a Flat Rock Village Council member. As a member of the Henderson County Planning Board and the county Board of Commissioners, he was a key driver on land-use planning and other issues. He says he knows in his head that what he’s doing is important. “But my stomach tells me that I’d rather spend time with (wife) Jean and the dogs and out on the trails of Western North Carolina,” he said.