North Carolina lawmakers announce a tentative budget deal

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republican lawmakers announced a deal late Friday on a final state budget that would end a summer stalemate that's forced lawmakers to pass three temporary spending extensions and worried school superintendents over funds for teacher assistants and driver's ed.

But it sounded like questions over a significant topic — taxes — still hadn't been resolved.

The tentative agreement, announced by House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger after hours of additional negotiations, clears the path for votes next week on the compromise two-year spending plan that was supposed to be in place July 1. The current stopgap spending law expires Sept. 18.

Republicans have comfortable majorities in both General Assembly chambers. GOP Gov. Pat McCrory would be asked to sign the budget into law.

House and Senate Republicans got bogged down in July and August over spending amounts and policy. Their competing budget proposals were nearly $700 million apart for this year, and they ultimately agreed on spending more than $21.7 billion. House Republicans and McCrory also complained about large swaths of policy changes in the Senate budget. Senators ultimately moved proposed changes to incentives and Medicaid operations to other legislation.

Moore, R-Cleveland, provided few budget details Friday night, saying negotiators needed to spend the weekend reviewing the budget language and clearing up any discrepancies.

"There are minor things, but all of the major issues that have been in controversy between the two chambers have been resolved one way or another," Moore told reporters outside a negotiating room, joined by top budget-writers Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, and Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake. Final budget documents were expected to be released Monday, Moore said, with votes later next week.

It appeared, however, there were still differences over how tax changes would be handled.

Moore said for now any tax changes aren't included in the budget compromise. Lawmakers have wanted tax cuts to cancel out or exceed the revenues generated through expected Division of Motor Vehicle fee increases.

"At this juncture, it appears this is going to be just the spending bill at this point because work does continue on the tax piece," Moore said.

But Berger, R-Rockingham, told The Associated Press later Friday night that Senate Republicans still were working to iron out a finance package they want within the actual budget, not separately.

"We're very close," Berger said of the tax negotiations, emphasizing that all of the spending items had been finalized.

Previously this week, legislative leaders said they had agreed to preserve funding earmarked to pay for thousands of teacher assistants statewide, although senators wanted restrictions on districts spending the money for other education items. Money for driver's education funding eliminated this summer also would be restored, but senators also wanted more scrutiny of the program.

Lawmakers announced two weeks ago that the final budget would provide $750 bonuses for all state employees and teachers, as well as experience-based raises for teachers. A previous temporary spending plan this summer already raised minimum salaries for early-career teachers from $33,000 to $35,000.

Separate negotiations alongside the budget talks also have led to agreements in principle on a Medicaid overhaul and a statewide bond referendum that would be held next year, according to lawmakers. These and other bills also would be voted upon before lawmakers adjourn the longest session to draw up the two-year budget since 2001.

Budget delays have meant more than $2 million in additional spending to operate the ongoing General Assembly session since July 1.

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