RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina legislators wrapped up their first week back after a week off with little to show toward getting the already late state budget finalized next month.
By Thursday, both the House and Senate had announced their negotiators to forge a compromise on their competing two-year spending plans. Then they went home for the weekend.
No public meetings were held between negotiators this week, though some House budget writers convened their own subcommittees. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said some informal discussions have taken place with House counterparts and the office of Gov. Pat McCrory, who would be asked to sign the final product into law.
"We are having conversations," Berger said. "We're making progress, but I don't think we're very close."
Although more than 110 of the legislature's 170 members are named to the negotiations — 82 of them House members from both parties — a handful of lieutenants of Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, will do most of the heavy lifting.
McCrory visited the Legislative Building twice Thursday to meet separately with House and Senate Republicans. The governor left both meetings without taking reporters' questions, but Berger and senior House budget chairman Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said he talked about the budget as well as economic incentives and bonds.
Meeting together "saves us time, but being able to say how much, it's hard to say," Berger said after the Senate caucus meeting.
The GOP governor has sought for months to beef up his tools to recruit companies to North Carolina, and he's preached repeatedly about putting referenda before voters this fall for close to $3 billion in debt for roads and government infrastructure. Lawmakers have been skeptical about the scope of the borrowing or having statewide bond questions this year.
The budget was supposed to take effect July 1. A stop-gap spending measure to run state government in the meantime expires Aug. 14, essentially leaving four weeks to reach a deal.
The two chambers are nearly $700 million apart on spending during the first year of their respective budget proposals. The Senate plan is also chock-full of significant policy changes compared with the House's. McCrory and the House would prefer to separately negotiate some of those big policy matters, such as on incentives and a Medicaid overhaul.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, a top negotiator, said in an interview that an agreement on changing Medicaid must be resolved first before other budget items are addressed because they are interconnected. But Dollar, the chief House negotiator, said his chamber has a different view.
"We have to look at all the elements of the budget," Dollar said. "All will have to be looked at together."