Already two months late, final negotiations on the North Carolina budget are happening this weekend between the most powerful politicians in the state.
By Monday afternoon, Republican legislators — who have total control of the General Assembly — will have at least one caucus meeting to make final decisions on the two-year spending plan.
The last issue to resolve before unveiling the budget — which has yet-to-be-detailed raises for state employees and teachers, tax cuts and billions more spending of taxpayer money — has been about gambling.
So a House Republican meeting on Monday afternoon won’t just be an overview of the budget, though it might be that, too. It could be the final decision on if casinos are part of it this year.
“It’s still being discussed. Like everything else in the legislature, nothing is really dead,” Rep. Jason Saine, a top budget writer and Lincolnton Republican told The News & Observer on Friday.
House Speaker Tim Moore told colleagues Wednesday that legalizing up to four more casinos, including one in Senate leader Phil Berger’s Rockingham County district, did not have enough House Republican support to become part of the budget.
But Saine said the casinos are a Senate priority.
“Its going to be a topic because the Senate wants it. It’s not going away quickly,” he said.
If the disagreement is resolved, final votes to send the budget to Gov. Roy Cooper could be held by Friday, Sept. 15. That would be only a day later than originally planned.
Late state budgets have become the norm for lawmakers, whether it’s because of a stalemate between the Republican-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor, as it has been the past few years, or this year, when the budget debate has dragged on because the fight is House versus Senate.
Casinos have been the latest issue holding up budget negotiations while tens of thousands of state employees and teachers continue to work without raises that should have come in July.
Saine said Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore will have final negotiations over the weekend.
Moore told Republicans and Democrats Tuesday to expect votes through Thursday and possibly Friday, Sept. 15, if needed.
Saine was the biggest Republican proponent of another kind of gambling legislation that passed this year, expanding legal online sports betting. For casinos and video lottery terminals, which could be legalized and regulated as part of gambling legislation, he said he supports them but it’s “not my circus.”
Saine said some House Republicans “just don’t like gambling” and are not willing to support legalizing more casinos.
Earlier this week, Moore told reporters he would “be extremely surprised if we don’t have a budget voted on next week, because we’re down to just a few items.”
By Monday’s meeting, it may be clearer if those few items are finally resolved.
Once the compromise budget is released by Republican leaders, it will need two days of votes in each chamber. Then it goes to Cooper’s desk to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature after 10 days.
Raises could be be processed soon after the budget becomes law. They will be retroactive to July 1, when the new fiscal year began.