Source: Editorial Board
The state budget was due more than 10 weeks ago, yet we are inching closer to October with no agreement in place, no end in sight and seemingly no care from the Republicans who are responsible for the delay in the first place.
The new fiscal year began on July 1, meaning that the state budget for the next two years should have been approved and ready to go at that point. It was not. Instead of spending July working on budget details, Republicans decided to take an extended Fourth of July vacation and most of them simply didn’t return to Raleigh for the rest of the month.
On July 20, House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters that both chambers “have agreed on raises for teachers and state employees. And so we haven’t released what that is, but we’re very pleased with that number.” It has been two months since Moore said that, but teachers and state employees are no closer to getting those raises than they were in July and they still have no idea what kind of raises they are in line for.
Because Republicans have a supermajority in both the House and Senate, it is up to them to come to an agreement with each other. That means that Republicans are 100% responsible for the delay and they have no one to blame but themselves.
Democratic leaders last week offered to help Republicans break the gridlock on budget negotiations – under the condition that they be allowed to pass some priorities of their own, such as including more funding for public schools and raises for state workers.
Democrats made sure to point out that the reason for the delay – disagreements between Republicans on whether or not casinos should be included in the budget – has next to nothing to do with everyday North Carolinians.
“They’re not here trying to make your lives better,” said Rep. Robert Reives, the top-ranking House Democrat, WRAL reported. “They’re here trying to figure out how to take care of their cronies.”
The contested casino plan dividing the NCGOP has not been released to the public, but WRAL obtained a leaked draft that showed the $1.5 billion plan would likely benefit a Baltimore-based casino development firm called The Cordish Companies – the same company whose executives have recently donated tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to top Republicans.
Reives and other Democrats in attendance at the press conference slammed Republicans for letting casinos hold up Medicaid expansion – an issue that impacts more than 600,000 North Carolinians – as well as preventing state employee raises from taking effect and every other issue that is being held up by the NCGOP’s inability to agree with one another. Democrats did say they would be willing to work with Republicans to find a middle ground in order to get a budget passed.
Reives told reporters that Democrats are working on a plan to give bigger raises to state workers, bump up the cost-of-living pension adjustment for retired state workers and fully enact Medicaid expansion, among other priorities. He said the compromise proposal won’t be for as much as what Democrats suggested during initial budget negotiations, which Republicans were uninterested in including in the budget.
“It’s less than what we want, but we feel it’s reasonable,” Reives said.
Neither Moore nor Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) indicated that they were particularly interested in working with Democrats on a compromise. Moore told reporters that he hopes Democrats will vote for the GOP’s budget plan without him needing to make any concessions to them. Berger said that if Moore does work with Democrats, it’s unlikely Senate Republicans would be interested in whatever compromise is agreed to in the House, but he didn’t rule it out completely.
“I’m certainly willing to listen,” Berger said.
Sen. Dan Blue, the top Democrat in the Senate, said it’s offensive that Republicans continue to tie Medicaid expansion to the budget because the legislature already voted to approve it months ago.
“We have over 600,000 working adults without health insurance, gambling with their lives every day, and more will continue to die every day without Medicaid expansion,” Blue said. “Thousands of North Carolinians have already died needlessly because of Republican inaction.”
Unfortunately for North Carolinians, it appears that the NCGOP is more than happy to gamble with their constituents’ lives if continuing to do so means they might get to gamble with money later on.
In a tragic example of irony, North Carolina Republicans – who can’t be bothered to do their job during the work-week – spent this past weekend proving to their constituents that building casinos is just as important – if not more – than their health and livelihood.
Instead of approving a budget that will expand Medicaid and provide health care access to 600,000-plus North Carolinians, Berger came up with a bill that removes Medicaid expansion from the budget and inserts it into a new bill tied to the approval of four casinos across the state – including one in his home county (where, coincidentally, one of his sons is a county commissioner).
In fact, according to WRAL, Rockingham County leaders may have known about the casino plan in June when commissioners quietly, and without notifying the public, made changes to county ordinances that could help pave the way for a casino to be built if the legislature changes the current law regarding casinos being built on non-tribal lands.
Once again, North Carolina Republican leaders are proving that they have the wrong priorities. In order to pass a sweetheart deal for himself and a few of his legislative buddies, Berger wants to gut Medicaid expansion from the budget, which will only further delay life-saving health care access to North Carolinians in need.
North Carolina Republicans are now showing their true colors on Medicaid expansion. NCGOP leaders have fought against it for years – 13, to be exact. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has even said, “I hope it fails.”
North Carolinians have been waiting since the Barack Obama presidency for the legislature to expand Medicaid coverage and just when it looks like it’s finally going to happen here, Berger and the Republicans are trying to pull the rug out from under North Carolinians all in the name of a last-minute deal to build Las Vegas-style casino resorts in rural counties.
Gov. Roy Cooper, who has long championed Medicaid expansion, trashed Berger’s proposal on social media.
“GOP demand for passage of their backroom casino deal in exchange for a state budget and Medicaid expansion is the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my 3+ decades,” Cooper posted on Twitter. “People are right to be suspicious. Something has a grip on Republican leaders and it’s not the people of NC.”