Offers insight into process
State Rep. Larry Strickland (R-Harnett and Johnston) gave an overview of the North Carolina budget process and the General Assembly’s current stalemate at a recent Benson Chamber of Commerce event.
Strickland offered his own thoughts on the current impasse, which came when Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the spending plan he was sent earlier this month. The General Assembly is now trying to find a way past Cooper’s veto.
The sophomore GOP representative explained to the chamber how the budget is initiated every two years, one year in the Senate and — as is the case this year — one year in the House of Representatives. Strickland told business professionals how the budget is divided and how the decisions are made regarding the spending. He explained that each section of the budget, whether it be for agriculture, education or other items, is presented by the various committees of the two chambers and is negotiated between the two houses until a suitable number can be hammered out.
“The Senate (President) Pro Tem and the House Speaker, they start the process by coming together and decide what the number is going to be for the state budget,” he said.
The total number they devise is based on several things like how to offset current inflation with current growth, he added.
“While the house is starting to craft their budget, the governor is over here crafting his budget,” Strickland said. “Later on the Senate will start the process, too. But they wait until we get our budget before they come out with theirs. The governor’s budget is first, then we’re starting out budget.”
The impasse came after Cooper offered a budget at about $25.2 billion dollars, which was approximately $1.2 billion higher than the budget state legislators crafted.
“Our budget was going to be $24 billion,” Strickland said. “And that is a lot of money.”
Within the budget legislators have proposed, Strickland said education got the biggest percentage with 61% followed by another 24% earmarked for health expenditures, 12% for public safety gets 12% and 3% for agriculture.
“That is the end result of that $24 billion budget that we as the House and Senate have agreed upon,” Strickland said. “Of that $24 billion 61 cents of every dollar goes to education.”
Strickland said the GOP-controlled legislature has accused the Democratic governor of trying to stretch the state’s pocketbooks too thin.
“We have basically said governor your budget is too high, you’re wanting to expand Medicaid, there’s not a good feeling for doing that right now,” he said. “It costs too much on top of the $24 billion budget.”
The deadline for the budget was July 1, which means as of now, the state is running on last year’s spending plan until a new one can be ironed out between legislators and the governor according to state law.
“We’re working on a base budget,” he said. “Whether it’s health, education or our prisons, they’re all being funded. On top of that, last week, we passed a bill — and I believe it will be passed by the governor — what it does is it pulls down money that the federal folks will send the state of North Carolina. So we’re not going to miss out on any federal money while we discuss the proposed budget.”
Strickland says the federal funding will aid in keeping schools operating and teachers employed like it did during the Great Recession.
“What I predict will happen, like we did in the Great Recession when Congressman (Bob) Etheridge sent some Obama money down to Johnston County, we were able to use that federal money to keep our teachers employed until we got through the Great Recession. So I see some of this federal money will help our growth in schools,” he said.
Strickland offered his reasoning behind the legislature’s reluctance to give the governor the increase in Medicaid spending he’s seeking. The congressman called the denial a way to protect against future shortcomings should the economy turn and go into another recession or face some other unforeseen financial crisis. He also said a plan to counter the expansion in some way is also being considered.
“We’ve got a good economy here in North Carolina and if we slip up and we overextend ourselves or commit ourselves to some type of funding that blows up down the road, that’s our concern, that’s my concern as a legislator,” he said. “Now there is a bill in [the] House right now, it’s on our calendar, it’s not been heard yet, it’s not been voted on yet, but it is Medicaid for people that are working at this particular time. So that they would be able to get some kind of health insurance.”
Strickland pointed out the standoff between the governor and legislators had reached the 18-day mark as of last Thursday, and he said he has no idea when the impasse will end.
“I, today, cannot tell you when and if we will settle this budget,” he said.
-The Daily Record