The General Assembly started negotiating this week on a final budget to present to Gov. Mike Easley. Both the House and the Senate have approved roughly $20 billion budget proposals that invest heavily in education and economic development. Conference committees appointed by the leaders of each chamber will work out the differences in the plans. Matters eligible for negotiation include pay raises for state employees, the statewide sales tax rate and, the income tax rate for the highest wage earners in the state.
The House proposed a 4.25 percent pay raise - a quarter-percent more than the Senate proposed. The Senate wants to trim a quarter-percent from the sales tax and the income tax rate for the wealthy. The House has proposed keeping both taxes unchanged. The Senate budget also eliminates funding for farmland preservation and the State Energy Office, as well as much of the funding for emergency drinking water testing and notification for low income communities with contaminated water. Negotiators hope to have a final plan ready before the next fiscal year starts July 1, 2007.