Now that the North Carolina House of Representatives is evenly divided between two parties, experts say the previously Democratic majority from last session will have to get used to accommodating Republican concerns, while Republicans may have to backtrack on their promise not to raise taxes.

"Any agenda by any party is going to have to have bipartisan support for it to pass," said Rep. Paul Miller, a Democrat from Durham County.

The House voted last Wednesday to have a dual-speakership arrangement, in which Democrat Jim Black and Republican Richard Morgan share the House's top leadership position, typically held by the leader of the majority party. Currently, six Democrats and one Republican are vying for the Speaker Pro Tempore position, the second highest office in the body. Among the Democrats running is Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham County.

Republicans took the House from the Democrats after the November elections, until one Republican member switched parties, creating an even split in the House. The Senate has remained under Democratic control.

Legislators are still not sure how committee assignments will be delegated, though Miller said the final arrangement will probably be a mixture of Democratic and Republican committee chairs, with a few committees being co-chaired by members from each party.

A critical test of the new alliance will be whether or not a balanced budget can be passed. North Carolina currently faces a $2 billion budget shortfall due in part to lower-than-expected tax revenues resulting from a weak economy, and legislators are scrambling to find ways to save. Weeks ago, several Republicans - then the majority in the House - signed a pledge vowing to balance the budget by cutting spending and refusing to raise taxes. However, the Democrats are less open to the idea.

"The General Assembly will have to both cut the budget and raise taxes. If they do not do both, they cannot pass a balanced budget. A slim majority of about 65-75 moderate members from both parties will come to some kind of agreement in the House that does both," said Ted Arrington, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

"We are facing a $1.5 billion to $2 billion reality," Miller said. "The only way to balance the budget [without raising taxes] would be to cut personnel in the multiple of tens of thousands."

Arrington said several state government operations will be hit with spending cuts, including universities. "Universities will have to share some of the pain. I expect that more cuts will be made elsewhere. The parents of those in the universities vote. Those receiving other kinds of state help typically don't vote. Some things [e.g. building roads] can be postponed," Arrington said.

Other legislation that seemed likely when the Republicans had power will now be less feasible. A proposal to limit the amount of money awarded to victims of medical malpractice will be more difficult to enact, as well as a ban on video poker machines in the state.

Thad Beyle, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, stressed that the House would have to tone down its typically harsh and partisan rhetoric to get anything accomplished.

"They've got to work on their communications and interactions and faith with each other and move towards trust," Beyle said.