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NC Senate threatens to end budget talks over spending dispute with House

FILE - North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, left, speaks while Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, listens during a post-election news conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 9. 2022.
(AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson)
FILE - North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, left, speaks while Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, listens during a post-election news conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, Nov. 9. 2022.

The North Carolina Senate's top leader said Wednesday that chamber Republicans are prepared to walk away from budget negotiations if the House remains unwilling to give way and lower its preferred spending levels.

With private budget talks between GOP lawmakers idling, House Speaker Tim Moore announced this week that his chamber would roll out its own spending plan and vote on it next week. Moore said Tuesday that the plan, in part, would offer teachers and state employees higher raises than what is being offered in the second year of the two-year budget law enacted last fall. The budget's second year begins July 1.

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters that his chamber and the House are “just too far apart at this point” on a budget adjustment plan. He reinforced arguments that the House wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves above and beyond the nearly $1 billion in additional unanticipated taxes and other revenue that economists predict the state will collect through mid-2025.

“The Senate is not going to go in that direction,” Berger said.

In a conventional budget process, the Senate would next vote on a competing budget plan, after which negotiators from the House and Senate would iron out differences. But Berger said Wednesday that he didn't know whether that would be the path forward. He said that if there's no second-year budget adjustment in place by June 30 that the Senate would be prepared to stay out of Raleigh until the House gets “reasonable as far as a budget is concerned.” Moore has downplayed the monetary differences.

Berger pointed out that a two-year budget law is already in place to operate state government — with or without adjustments for the second year. But he acknowledged that language in the law still requires the General Assembly to pass a separate law to implement the teacher raises agreed upon for the second year.

The chill in budget negotiations also threatens to block efforts to appropriate funds to address a waiting list for children seeking scholarships to attend private schools and a loss of federal funds for child care. Any final bills would end up on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's desk.