Lawmakers are currently in the middle of the short legislative session budget negotiations for North Carolina.

The Republican majorities of the NC House and the Senate, who are often singing different parts but from the same sheet of music, are now in such disharmony that they may not produce a budget compromise at all. The House has submitted a spending plan; the Senate has scoffed at it, and is threatening to go home without addressing the budget at all.

If that happens, and the state of North Carolina cruises through June 30 — the end of the fiscal year — without an adjusted spending plan, then the people of North Carolina will most certainly… carry on as normal?

For North Carolina politicos, activists, policy watchdogs, lobbyists, stakeholders, or state employees, whether or not the state budget gets passed in this form or that form can be a very big deal. Existential, even. For most North Carolinians, though, it just isn’t — real policy effects notwithstanding. For a good many of our neighbors, the current budget impasse between the NC House and Senate isn’t even a blip on their radar.

This is far different from the high stakes game of chicken played at the federal level when reaching the end of a spending plan without a new spending plan in place. In fact, the brinksmanship associated with Congress’s grip on the nation’s purse strings has made a mockery of honest budgeting on behalf of the We the People.

Omnibus spending, continuing resolutions, ominous debt ceilings, government shutdowns, and inevitable capitulations — the spending schemes in Washington DC, have, perhaps, become one of the most potent and destructive forces our federal government has at its disposal. It’s used to cudgel members into a state of duress, to sweeten pots to the point of bribery, and to issue ultimatum’s to an American people buried in public debt.

If we approach a debt ceiling with a divided Congress or suffer all the “Chicken Little” PR induced by an expiring CR, you can bet it’ll draw a large dose of attention and angst from those same North Carolinians who are totally unconcerned with the quaint budget battles on Jones Street.

So what is the difference? It’s not as if the representatives in Raleigh and DC have a different nature — we are all human, and so share the same human tendencies. Our founders certainly realized this, which is why they set out to articulate so many guardrails for our federal government. We know their location by the glaring holes where government has nonetheless crashed through.

Though, something seems to throttle the more problematic expressions of our nature at the level of our state legislature. Of course members have their own pet projects, and horse trading is not uncommon. There are plenty of appropriations supported merely by the aroma of bacon reaching back to one’s home district.

But it is when the tradeoffs turns into standoffs that one can appreciate the marked difference in fallout is owed to a reinforced structural conservatism. North Carolina does not have a state bank that can print money; we cannot constantly float debt notes to finance operations (though, we still carry too much debt); and, we DO have a requirement that our budgets be balanced. Moreover, we have enacted pragmatic protocols that ensure lawmakers don’t have to walk a cliff’s edge every time the fiscal year end approaches.

First, far from the perpetual and reckless continuing resolutions it seems Congress requires to keep the lights on, lawmakers in the Tar Heel State are duty bound to create and pass a balanced budget for a full two years.

The NC General Assembly did just that in the fall of 2023 — several months after the fiscal year end, mind you — meaning the current budget debate revolves around modifications to the second year of the current budget. So, if the House and Senate are unable to resolve their differences regarding additional spending before the June 30 fiscal-year end, we simply stash the surplus revenue into savings and carry on with the budget in place. Hence, Berger’s suggestion that they may just “go home.”

Well, what if there isn’t a budget? Prudent lawmakers had the foresight to enact state laws that state, simply, if a new budget is not passed, the operations of the state roll on at the base level of the previous budget. There is no shut down. No drama, at least, of the existential kind.

The result is a relatively smaller platform for fear mongering or theatrics and more attention paid to the nuts and bolts of policy. In light of that, and despite the likely differences of opinions on particular spending priorities and pork barrel projects, North Carolinians should be thankful that our state budgeting process isn’t the total circus that is DC. Our framework has better protected our principled foundations.