Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled General Assembly have extolled the streamlined budget process this session. Democrats say the public has been shut out of an important discussion.
The General Assembly passed a two-year spending plan over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto last year. The short legislative session that opened last week is primarily focused on tweaking that plan ahead of the next fiscal year.
Republican budget writers will handle the adjustments and present a conference report for an up-or-down vote with no chance for amendments.
"I think it shows the top-down leadership that is the General Assembly nowadays with four or five people writing the budget and one or two people having a say-so and it's never been done before," lamented House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake).
Jackson added that he thinks GOP leaders are shutting out moderate Republicans, too, who might otherwise vote with Democrats on certain budget priorities.
"That we are not properly funding public education, that all teachers deserve a raise, that state employees deserve a raise, that our retirees deserve a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment)," Jackson surmised.
Republicans legislative leaders have set a $23.9 billion spending target for the coming fiscal year, which will include an average teacher pay raise of 6.2 percent.
Governor Cooper has proposed a $24.5 billion plan, with an average teacher pay raise of 8 percent, and more money for teachers who have served at least 25 years.
Representative Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) acknowledges his party will be criticized for a lack of transparency. But the Republican lawmaker and budget chair says legislators are only making adjustments to a two-year budget that was put together last year.
"This is really more in the nature of an amendment to a budget that we've already got in place," McGrady said.
McGrady said the expedited process will allow lawmakers to move quickly and avoid public posturing on a host of issues.
"But when you're just dealing with an amendment to the budget and you want to get it out, this will be probably the first time that I can recall that the state budget is probably going to be adopted before all the local governments have adopted their bugets," McGrady said. "And that's always a complaint, having been a county commissioner, I'm always sitting there trying to figure out how I'm going to do my budget and I don't know what the state is doing because they're running behind."
This time, McGrady said, that won't be true.