A memorandum from the state budget office issued earlier this month asks state agencies to let them know what’s essential and what’s not, in the event a budget stalemate leads to a government shutdown.
The July 14 memorandum (scroll down to read) asks agencies to go through their operations, and report back about public safety and essential services need to continue on in the event of a funding stoppage –things like keeping on the staff who feed animals at the N.C. State Zoo, emergency responders in the highway patrol and prison guards.
Agencies need to provide their responses by Monday, which need to include estimates about what would happen if funding is halted for a week, or longer.
Preparing for a budget stalemate is a lot different from how the state prepares for other emergencies, state budget director Lee Roberts wrote in the July 14 memorandum.
“For a budget contingency plan, we must instead identify the minimum functions and services that must be performed for immediate response to issues of public lives or safety, or to avoid catastrophic loss of state property, and the associated personnel required to carry out these tasks,” Roberts wrote in the memorandum. “This includes the number of personnel required to perform these functions at the critical level, as well as administrative staff that support those critical functions.”
He takes care to point out that the chance of government shutdown because of the current budget negotiations is unlikely, and his request is intended to make sure a contingency plan is available in case things fall apart on the federal or state level.
But it’s certainly not an unprecedented scenario, as North Carolinians found out in 2013 when the federal government stopped running.
The state got national attention for the some of the ways it handled the crisis.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, already contending with massive problems with its food stamps delivery and Medicaid billing systems, stopped giving out WIC payments.
That made North Carolina the only state in the nation to stop the program that provides formula and nutritional foods to low-income pregnant women and young children, despite the existence of a federal emergency contingency fund that was supposed to keep the WIC benefits in place.
So, could we see a repeat of that scenario here in North Carolina?
It’s hard to say, though the possibility seems remote at this point.
Republican lawmakers who control both legislative chambers are nearly a month behind in settling on a budget and finding agreement on several major policy issues for the fiscal year that began July 1, with state government running off a continuing resolution that lasts until Aug. 14.
Rumors are abounding as to whether lawmakers will stay in Raleigh for the remainder of the summer, or even into the fall or winter months as they hash out their differences.
A state government shutdown could come about if state legislative leaders fail to come to agreements about the budget and any subsequent continuing resolution can’t be agreed upon by the two branches of the legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who has the option of vetoing any continuing resolution.
So, stay tuned.