Wednesday, 10 July 2019 12:45

Budget battle continues as House Republicans pull back veto override

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RALEIGH — After several starts and stops, on Tuesday, July 9, the N.C. House failed to vote on an override of the governor’s budget bill.

Instead, the House Appropriations Committee plans to meet Wednesday to consider a temporary funding bill, which would keep programs running — including those needing federal money — as the state budget battle continues. The standoff could linger.

This is the second time House Republican leaders put the override vote on the agenda without taking it up. House Bill 966, the $24 billion budget bill, was put on the calendar Monday, but the House adjourned without voting.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the General Fund budget June 28. Cooper cited Republican leaders’ failure to include Medicaid expansion in the budget, and he lambasted Republicans for valuing “corporate tax breaks over classrooms, gimmicks over guaranteed school construction, and political ideology over people.”

To override a veto, each General Assembly chamber needs “yes” votes from three-fifths of the members present. A veto override isn’t as easy as it used to be for Republican legislators. In 2018 they lost their supermajority in both the House and the Senate. If all members are present in the House, seven Democratic representatives would have to flip for a veto override to hold.

To court some Democrats, Republicans included money for local projects — aka pork — in various districts. The General Assembly also added House Bill 655, N.C. Healthcare for Working Families Act, to the House calendar. H.B. 655 is some Republican lawmakers’ answer to Medicaid expansion. Critics have touted the bill as Medicaid expansion-light, even though it includes work requirements for those seeking to be insured under the program.

The bill was introduced in April and hasn’t moved until recently, when Republican leaders added it to the agenda despite objections from some Democrats. But, like the veto override, the House never got around to voting on H.B. 655.

Meanwhile, Cooper offered his compromise budget proposal Tuesday to counter H.B. 966.

Like the General Assembly’s budget, Cooper’s proposal includes all of the local projects Republican leaders added to entice key Democratic lawmakers — plus $30 million to teachers for classroom supplies, raising the state’s standard deduction for personal income tax filers, and $110 million for hurricane relief, among other provisions.

But Cooper’s budget differs from the General Assembly’s in several ways. For one, it removes franchise tax cuts and freezes funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program. The governor’s proposed budget gives every teacher an average pay raise of 8.5% over two years and raises the cost-of-living adjustment to 2% for state employee retirees. H.B. 966 provides teachers with a raise amounting to a little less than 4% over two years.

The governor’s budget includes a hybrid plan for school construction. Instead of a large statewide school construction bond, the governor is calling for a smaller bond, as well as for some funding for the Republican’s pay-as-you-go plan.

Chief among Cooper’s priorities is expanding Medicaid, which is included in his proposed compromise budget. The governor’s budget has neither work requirements nor premiums for Medicaid recipients covered by the expanded program.

“Compromise shouldn’t be a dirty word, and we need to work together to provide for North Carolina’s most pressing needs,” Cooper said in a news release. “This budget gives us an opportunity to secure health insurance for half a million people and strengthen public education while still balancing the budget, cutting taxes for people and saving responsibly.”

House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said Cooper is intimidating Democratic lawmakers to vote against the veto override.

“North Carolinians deserve better than Gov. Cooper’s petulant veto,” Lewis wrote in a news release. “By threatening House Democrats with a primary challenge, Roy Cooper is holding the entire state hostage to coerce one policy preference at the expense of all North Carolinians.”

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, issued a series of news releases Monday pointing out different programs not being funded while Cooper’s veto stands.