Former Henderson County Commissioner Renee Kumor remarked upon getting the last newsletter that she hoped I survived the budget. That is my goal.
Having crossover behind us, about half the members of the House will begin the process of crafting the House’s budget. Approximately three weeks from now, the House should pass its budget and then the Senate will work on its budget. No one expects the Senate to simply adopt the House’s budget, so the Senate budget will come back, and a conference committee will resolve the differences between the two budgets.
Ultimately, it may get down to the President Pro Tem of the Senate, Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), and the Speaker of the House, Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), resolving the final big issues. When both chambers pass the same budget, that budget bill will move to Governor McCrory, hopefully for his signature.
Of course, the process on paper looks simple — while it is actually much more complicated. In the House, there are eight appropriations committees (with responsibilities for different parts of the budget from Transportation to Education to Justice and Public Safety… and everything in between). In turn, the members of those eight appropriations committees comprise the 60+ member, full Appropriations Committee.
Each subject-matter appropriations committee will construct its part of the budget, and then those parts will be put together to form the House’s budget.
The budget comes in two parts: the money provisions and the special provisions. The money provisions are just the specific monies that are newly allocated or subtracted from a base budget carried over from one legislative session to the next legislative session, but the special provisions are often where the detail is — or, as in recent years, large policy decisions are reflected.
Some parts of the House budget relate to more than one subject-matter appropriations committee. The best example of an issue that always overlaps is the issue of Pay, specifically what the salary and benefits are for state employees, including teachers. These overarching issues are initially left to the full appropriations chairs (i.e., “big chairs”) — of which I’m one. [Editor’s Note: In the United States House of Representatives’ deliberations, these Appropriations “Big Chairs” are referred to as the “Cardinals.” Doubtless, Representative McGrady would be uncomfortable being addressed as “Your Eminence.”]
That explains why I don’t expect to be back in Hendersonville, except for Mother’s Day, over the next 3-4 weeks. Aside from crafting those parts of the budget that are overarching, the “big chairs” are tasked with pulling the entire budget together. Eventually, the full House will vote on a budget proposal brought forward by the “big chairs.”
While the House and the Senate initially held joint meetings to understand the Governor’s budget proposal, those meetings stopped weeks ago. More recently, the chairs of all of these committees were given targets by the big chairs and soon each subject matter appropriations committee will review budget proposals put forward by those chairs.
For weeks now, we’ve been waiting on the final revenue forecast from the Department of Revenue. Since there were numerous tax law changes that affected the state’s revenues, budget writers had to find out exactly how much money they would have based on tax returns filed by April 15.
Two weeks ago, we were told we’d have revenue numbers on Friday, May 1. That slipped to Monday, May 4th last week, and then to Tuesday, May 5. Today, we’re told we’ll have revenue numbers on Wednesday, May 6. A few days doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it adds up, and it makes it more difficult to get a budget passed by both chambers and signed by the Governor before June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Last week, almost everyone who came by the office or called was wanting to talk about some bill that was going to be heard in the House last week — education policy, animals, guns, abortion, among other topics. Little of that is occurring now. Everyone is stopping by to lobby for whatever their part of the budget is. Thus, I heard from several advocates on children’s issues yesterday, lobbying for portions of the budget that affected particular programs for children. Governor McCrory proposed in his budget that state parks, the aquariums, and the zoo get moved from the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) to the Department of Cultural Resources (DCR), and lobbyists dropped by to talk to me on that issue.
Depending on what our actual revenue numbers are after folks filed their tax returns, the “big chairs” might raise or lower the budget targets. So, for a day or two more, we are in a “hurry up and wait phase.” But before the end of the week, expectations are that we’ll be heavily engaged in cobbling together the budget.
In my first term, I worked on the transportation portion of the budget. Since transportation is almost wholly funded through two trust funds and with federal funds, it doesn’t really affect the state budget. We finished our work rather quickly, and just waited until the full Appropriations Committee and then the House passed its budget. Later, after the Senate and House negotiators, resolved differences between the two budgets, my only decision was to vote “yea” or “nay” on that budget.
In my second term, I was a co-chair of the committee dealing with education. While that was a large responsibility since education is over 50% of the state budget, issues like teacher pay or any issues related to human services or public safety weren’t my responsibility. I helped craft the education part of the House’s budget and then negotiated with my Senate counterparts over the differences in our spending on education, but I had no real say over other issues. Again, in the end, my only decision was to vote for or against the budget.
All that has changed (or will change).
I’ve already helped establish the budget targets for each of the subject-matter appropriations committee. I’ve got primary responsibility for working with those subject-matter appropriations committees responsible for the DENR, DCR, and the Department of Commerce budgets but also help with education and transportation. Soon, I’ll be one of a handful of House members working on the overarching issues, like state employee salaries and, eventually, I’ll be negotiating with our Senate counterparts to reach a consensus budget that will be voted on by both chambers. Rather than just voting “yea” or “nay,” I’ll have actually had a lot to do with what we’ll be voting on.
That’s the process in a nutshell.
Next, I guess one needs to understand the substantive issues. Hopefully, I’ll get to write about that before getting buried in the numbers.
By the way, there is an informative article explaining last week’s crossover week and its ramifications by WRAL reporter Mark Binker, “After crossover, what’s next?” There is also a good article documenting some funnier moments relating to HB544 [Protect Public from Dangerous Wild Animals] from The News and Observer. You can also hear the audio clip of that debate.