08/04/05 — Legislators predict more budget talks

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Legislators predict more budget talks

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on August 4, 2005 1:50 PM

Wayne County legislators have no idea when the General Assembly will approve a budget, saying there are still a number of sticky points to be resolved.

"It's a moving target right now," said Sen. John Kerr (D). "There are some tough issues."

Legislators were expected to have a budget approved by July 1. They have twice voted to extend the budget deadline and will likely vote today or Friday to do so again.

He said that a decision on whether the state should have a lottery is one of the big issues holding up the budget.

Kerr said the House had approved a weakened lottery bill but that he isn't sure whether the Senate will approve of the other chamber's version. The Senate has approved bills calling for a lottery several times in the past but the issue has never made it through the House. Kerr has said he supports a public vote on the lottery.

As co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Kerr is deeply involved in negotiatons over revenues and expenditures. He said lawmakers have made a lot of progress in recent weeks but that some issues, such as a proposed cigarette tax increase, a lottery, raises for state employees and the creation of a separate governing board for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State, have many legislative leaders at odds.

"The proposal for another board of governors for Chapel Hill and N.C. State would be a fundamental change," said Kerr. "That is very controversial."

"There's a lot of trading going on," Kerr said.

The pay issues for state employees is also a big issue, he said.

"We're fighting to make sure that we don't slide backwards with their pay," Kerr said. "The state employees are a very important part of the state's economic engine."

Rep. Louis Pate (R) said he is not directly involved in the committee negotiations but that he believes that if another budget extension is approved that it could be a while before the two chambers reach an agreement.

"If that cushion redevelops, there's no telling how long we'll be there," said Pate.

He said some of the sticking points were the lottery, the tobacco tax and the state employees pay increase.

The House has agreed to a 20-cent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes. The Senate wants a 30-cent increase, he said.

"I believe the Speaker said that the House wouldn't go any more, and the Senate doesn't want to go any lower," Pate said.

Pate, who opposes the lottery, said he doesn't understand how the Senate could include the lottery in its budget, when senators haven't even decided whether to approve a referendum on the issue.