Tom Campbell: It's time to stop the budget games in NC (2024)

Once again North Carolina won’t have a revised budget at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. Revising and updating the budget passed in 2023 was its primary task when the General Assembly convened in Raleigh on April 24.

Legislators are playing budget games. They are reportedly some $312 million apart in the $31 billion spending plan. When asked what was standing in the way of resolution, Senate leader Phil Berger answered, “pork.” The House wants to give additional pay increases to teachers and state employees from what was approved last year. The Senate doesn’t.

Instead of resolving their differences, our lawmakers are going home. Some suggest they will return in August or September. They certainly won’t adjourn “sine die” (meaning for good this year), awaiting the outcome of November’s elections. Remember when Roy Cooper defeated Pat McCrory in 2016 and the legislature convened to reduce the governor’s powers? It could happen again.

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There are legitimate reasons for revising the budget. Teacher turnover is 11.5%, and pay is a primary factor. There also are personnel shortages among state troopers and prison employees and in many other state agencies.

The 2023 budget wasn’t approved until Oct. 2, two months after the fiscal year started. In 2021, a final budget was passed on Nov. 15, the first formally approved since 2018.

Budget delays are unfair to state employees and to state projects and programs. It’s a lousy way to run a $31 billion state enterprise.

So, since lawmakers are considering proposing constitutional amendments on voting, let’s consider some others.

We could do as many states and set fixed terms for legislative sessions. Georgia sets session limits to 40 days per year. Seven states have 60-day limits. One state only allows for 60 days over two years. Four others have 90-day limits, with Tennessee terminating legislative pay at 90 days.

North Carolina should have session limits fixed at 100 session days over a two-year term. After that time, legislative pay and benefits should stop, as an incentive for lawmakers to get their work done and go home. Special sessions should be called only by the governor, only for a specific purpose and length, like passing a budget.

Also, let’s put some amendments in place to eliminate career lawmakers. Phil Berger has served 23 years in the Senate and has been Senate leader for 13 years. Sen. Dan Blue has served more than 30 years, and others have served for decades. North Carolina allows the governor to serve only eight years. Why should we allow lawmakers unlimited tenure?

Let’s amend the constitution so legislative terms last four years instead of two, with no legislator allowed more than three four-year terms. This would ensure new faces, new ideas and new leadership.

It’s no wonder our legislature is composed mostly of retired, independently wealthy people or people who work for companies with special interests in legislative matters. Most others can’t afford to serve.

So, let’s pay lawmakers better. North Carolina currently pays legislators $13,951 per year, plus reimbursem*nt of 29 cents mile, per diem expenses of $104 during legislative sessions and $559 per month for office and administrative expenses. We are well below most states, except South Carolina, which only pays $10,400; Texas at $7,200; and New Mexico, which doesn’t pay legislators anything. A few pay $60,000, $80,000 or $100,000 or more. We get what we pay for!

Winning a legislative seat generally requires spending a minimum of $150,000 for a job that only pays $14,000. Can you see the problem? Lawmakers must depend on contributions to get elected. But who contributes? Mostly PACs, special-interest groups, the wealthy and, even though it is illegal, bundled corporate contributions.

This leads to the need for stricter campaign finance laws, restricting the amount individuals, corporations and PACs can contribute to candidates. Let’s also eliminate the unlimited “in kind” contributions that political parties can spend on behalf of candidates. North Carolina can’t change federal laws, but we can tighten ours.

Finally, let’s move primary elections to June (as many states do), with the general election in November. If we can’t eliminate how much is being spent, at least we can shorten the length of time it is being spent.

Tom Campbell: It's time to stop the budget games in NC (1)

Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. Contact him at


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Tom Campbell: It's time to stop the budget games in NC (2024)
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