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Legislators Ready For Shock To Budget

North Carolina legislative building
Dave DeWitt
N.C. General Assembly

North Carolina has seen more than 50 times the typical number of people applying for unemployment in the past two weeks. Nearly 90% say they're jobless because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That's a problem not just for individuals but for state government. More than half of the state's revenue comes from personal income tax, and those lost wages for the newly unemployed means a significant drop for state coffers. In the weeks and months ahead, legislators are working to keep essential government operations functioning – schools, prisons, healthcare, even roads and bridges.

Even the legislature itself is going to have to adjust, in an effort to maintain social distancing when they're back in the statehouse.

"I can tell you we're looking at several things right now, perhaps allowing voting instead of the normal 15 seconds – allowing 30 minutes, or a full hour to vote," said Republican House Speaker Tim Moore. "Whatever is needed in order to do so."

About half of the lawmakers in the state House are older than 65 and considered high-risk of contracting COVID-19.

North Carolina is starting to send some of its $7 billion in available cash to people who have lost their jobs. The state is also set to receive about $4 billion in federal stimulus aid. One balancing act for lawmakers is determining how much of the available funds to save in the likely event of a budget shortfall this summer. Lawmakers are scheduled to return April 28 – the logistics for which are still being worked out.

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
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