The N.C. General Assembly convened the 2022 short session Wednesday, May 18, with fast-track plans to “pre-negotiate” the budget and be out by July 1. Still, important issues are on the to-do list, like health care access reports and parental involvement in education.
At noon, lawmakers gaveled in the short session just months after the longest long session in state history concluded in March. Both the Senate and House would like the short session to stay short, especially after the marathon long session and for those who will be campaigning for the General Election in November.
“Members, it’s good to see everyone back,” said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. “It just doesn’t feel like it has been that long ago that we were here, still in the long session. Now, we are finally in the short session. My hope is as true as the word ‘long session’ was, I hope this time that the word will truly be a short session as well.”
Even though the House will reconvene Thursday at 10:30 a.m., Moore said there won’t be any votes this week. The House will take up some bills next week, no earlier than Wednesday.
The Senate followed a similar plan, gaveling in and out in less than two minutes. Senators will also reconvene Thursday at 10:30 a.m..
Moore said House leaders are working to pre-negotiate the budget with the Senate as much as they can to speed the process — calling it “reverse engineering” — starting with a conference report and getting it resolved. Normally, the legislature starts with a House budget and a Senate budget and brings everything together. Then, they end with a conference report, which represents a joint House-Senate compromise.
“If we can try to get those issues identified now and deal with that, that is the intention of the chair,” he said. “We certainly have been here enough last year and into this year that I think we can make it a little more of an efficient process. We’ll be asking members to be talking with the appropriations chairs if you have a specific request on things you want to work on.”
“Appropriations chairs” lead the House and Senate budget-writing committees.
Despite its brevity, the short session looks to be filled with important items on the agenda on both sides of the aisle. It comes as last week’s revised forecast from state government economists indicated the state will have an additional $6.2 billion in revenue through the end of the next budget year.
“State employment had returned to pre-pandemic levels by the summer of 2021 and, by March 2022, already exceeded our pre-pandemic forecast,” stated the revised forecast from the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division and the governor’s State Budget Office.
“Nevertheless, consumer demand outpaced inflation, as consumers continued to spend down savings accumulated during the pandemic.”
Inflation surged in March to its highest level since January 1982, at 8.5%.
“We will continue Republican-led policies that created a stable economic climate and balanced state budgets in North Carolina while avoiding efforts by state Democrats to replicate the ill-advised approach of the Biden administration,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham in an emailed statement.
Democrats in the legislature share some of those priorities but have a broader target list for the session.
“In the short session, House Democrats want to continue the work to expand opportunities for all North Carolinians,” said Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, in an emailed statement. “We want to truly expand broadband access both by investing in infrastructure and in digital literacy efforts to help all North Carolinians and small businesses benefit. We want to continue to try to save rural health care by helping hospitals stay open, increasing the number of health care professionals in these areas, lowering health care costs, and creating more accessibility for all.”
“On the heels of a revenue report that far exceeded projections, legislators will gather back in Raleigh for the 2022 short session with the goal of making budget adjustments and finishing up some leftover business from the long session,” said Jordan Roberts, director of government affairs at the John Locke Foundation. “I expect health care and education to be the dominant policy buckets that are discussed during the short session among legislators.”
Roberts said sports wagering and medical marijuana are some of the issues that will likely come up for discussion during the short session.