Cover Story: North Carolina budget holdup

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Day 15 without a state budget for North Carolina.  And state government's running on a temporary spending plan that expires at midnight Wednesday night.  Hanging in the balance teachers' jobs.. tax increases and cuts in government services.  And the lawmakers trying to come up with a plan can't get together.

How are the negotiations going?  We'd like to tell you, but frankly we don't know.

The budget talks are happening behind closed doors in secret among just a handful of people.

We don't know where they are and who's holding up what.

Since schools don't know how much money they'll get.. there's no hiring teachers.

If state cuts run deeper.. even more teachers may have to be let go.

Frustrating for schools like Iredell Statesville.  Superintendent Dr. Terry Holliday, when asked who needs to show leadership, he says, "Well I wish the General Assembly would show some.. and get a budget passed and go ahead."

Cities don't know how much money they could see.

Charlotte's could lose its fourth-largest source of income..

17-million bucks from the so-called "business privilege license tax".. the state's thinking about repealing.

"The public deserves to know what is happening and what decisions are being made and why," says Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

But like a jury that deliberates in secret.. the legislature crafts North Carolina's state budget the same way.

Why so much interest this time?

Because of the recession.. the state taking in less money we don't know how it's going to make up a projected 4-point-6 billion dollar shortfall.

Most assuredly, there will be cuts in spending.. and raising of taxes.  But how much of each... and where?

"We would know more about this if legislators were negotiating the final changes in the budget out in the open where everybody could see them as it ought to be."

But they don't... says Jack Betts who writes a blog "This Old State" and is an associate editor for the Charlotte Observer.. and arguably the most experienced journalist in Raleigh.

Gov. Bev Perdue is calling for a 22-percent hike in the sales tax.. a penny increase, and a host of other tax hikes.. this is part of the list.

Altogether would bring in 1-point-six billion dollars to balance the budget, saving the state from even more cuts education and other core services, she says.

But Democrats in the House and Senate who control both chambers and write the budget, have each offered their own versions of cuts and taxes and no one's seeing eye to eye.

To complicate matters they're talking about revising the tax system.

Says Betts, "I would be surprised if there is a budget agreement before August. And I would be surprised if there's an adjournment before Labor Day."

In normal times, the legislature would be ready to adjourn.. having passed a budget by the start of the fiscal year.. which was two weeks ago today.

Journalists are taking bets in Raleigh to see how long it's going to take them

How about this temporary spending plan that's supposed to expire tonight at midnight?

Little over an hour ago, lawmakers worked out another stopgap spending measure that keeps state government operating for another two weeks.

By the way, the longest they've been in session in recent years was in 2001.. when they went up to December.. no one's saying it's going to take that long.