RALEIGH, North Carolina — The General Assembly quickly passed another temporary spending measure Thursday directing how North Carolina government should operate while Republicans leaders remain knotted in a budget stalemate.
The stopgap bill, the third "continuing resolution" since lawmakers knew they would miss a July 1 deadline to a pass a two-year spending plan, was needed even though negotiators locked down significant agreements this week on spending amounts and employee pay.
The second continuing resolution was to expire Monday. The top budget-writers sounded more hopeful that the third one — set to expire Sept. 18 and sent to Gov. Pat McCrory after House and Senate votes — would be the last.
"We have made a lot of progress on the budget negotiations," Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, told colleagues before the bill passed 37-6. "Now it's just getting the details worked out."
The House followed with a vote of 109-4. "Hopefully it'll be the last one that we pass if things work well," Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said later. McCrory signed the bill later Thursday.
The third measure mimics the previous two measures, leaving spending for most agencies at last year's levels with the exception of the public schools, which has received a $100 million injection for enrollment growth as school started.
Still unresolved is future funding to local districts for teacher assistants and for driver's education. This uncertainty has caused some districts to suspend classroom and behind-the-wheel programs and lay off assistants or warn them of potential dismissals.
Funding to subsidize the student price tag for driver's education programs was to end permanently this summer, but the House budget approved in May found $26.4 million this year and a new annual funding source. The Senate budget still ended the subsidy but also ended the requirement that teenagers take driver's ed in part to avoid driving school costs in the hundreds of dollars.
Brown and House budget co-chairwoman Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus, said separately Thursday they were hopeful a compromise could be reached.
"We're still in early negotiations but we believe that there is room to come up with a solution for teen drivers," Johnson said.
Thursday's debate still gave Democrats some time to pick at the Republicans on the teacher assistant issue and for the budget delays, which will now enter its third month. A two-year budget hasn't been passed this late since 2001, when it was signed Sept. 26. Each additional week in session beyond the traditional departure date costs an additional $210,000, according to the legislature's financial staff.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, said Republican colleagues should press on with marathon talks to get a budget done before Monday night's deadline. He said the House could bypass its rules, which requires any final budget vote on the third day after a final proposed deal.
"Instead of rolling their sleeves up and getting to work for the people of this state, Republican leadership is again kicking the can down the road," Blue said in a release. "This is irresponsible leadership."