It is no secret that for the past several weeks full Appropriations Chairs have been locked away working on a revision to the budget that was passed last year. That budget was a two-year budget, but priorities change. The school safety issue has become predominate. With the economy continuing to improve, pay raises for state employees and educators were clearly going to happen, and it was clearly recognized that funds were needed to address water pollution issues related to GenX or deficiencies in funding of the prison system.
Since the state already has a budget for FY 2017-18, what is being drafted is an amendment to that budget. But that is a bit simplistic. This “amendment” will be roughly the size of the original budget, since so many budget provisions are changing. Every time one adds more money to or takes money from some allocation in last year’s budget that creates new descriptions of how the money is to be used.
Because we already have a budget and this is just a revision, and with legislators wanting to actually have a “Short” Session, the process for enacting the budget is different from the process used in past years. The process is and was efficient, but it lacks transparency. A relatively small group of people put the FY 2018-19 budget together, and the process that will be used will allow debate, but will not afford an opportunity for legislators to amend the budget. [More on the budget process in a future blog post.] As someone in that small group of people, here is what I can tell you right now.
Staff and the full Appropriations Chairs will review the entire budget this weekend. Assuming there are no glitches, the budget should be online for viewing on Monday evening. On Tuesday, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will meet jointly to review and discuss the budget. Following that meeting, the House and Senate will take up the budget separately with two votes taken by each chamber. However, no amendments to the budget will be allowed. The expectation is that a budget will be approved and sent to Governor Cooper by end of the week.
Parts of the budget are already being released. House and Senate leaders provided an overview of the salary provisions yesterday. Today, the disaster relief provisions were released. Other information has been released with respect to funding for broadband and school safety.
As a full Appropriations Chair, my responsibility has been the budgets for the Departments of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Commerce Department, the Department of Labor, the Wildlife Resource Commission, and the Department of Natural & Cultural Affairs. Additionally, I had point for both chambers on the disaster relief issue.
As the budget negotiations came to an end, most of my time was spent on the GenX issue. As the most senior appropriator from western North Carolina, I had to pay attention to funding issues like the Western Medical School and hemlock restoration.
When the full budget is posted, one will quickly see that it doesn’t include a lot of policy. The legislature—following the precedent set by Congress—has increasingly put policy in the budget. This becomes a huge problem because legislators often want to support the budget but not support some set of policy changes—perhaps in the education or environmental areas. There will be some policy in the budget, including policy relating to GenX, but by comparison to recent budgets, this budget is largely about numbers and not policy.
As the budget has not been released, I can’t announce specific funding for any program except those released by House and Senate leaders. However, early next week, I’ll provide an overview of the budget with particular focus on western North Carolina.