RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Nearly all Democrats signed onto letters Monday opposing a plan that would tie Medicaid expansion to the legalization of four new casinos, as Republican legislative leaders were quiet about their plans.
This weekend, CBS 17 reported that Republicans are discussing pulling Medicaid expansion and a proposal to expand gambling out of the state budget and attempt to pass them in one bill. There would be separate votes on the budget itself.
Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) said over the weekend lawmakers aim to hold those votes on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
However, a spokesperson for House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) declined to say Monday when votes will occur and when the budget would be released. Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) declined to answer questions when approached on Monday, saying he was leaving the legislative building for a dentist appointment.
In the letter Senate Democrats released Monday morning, they write, “Medicaid expansion remains a priority for our caucus. However, we, the members of the North Carolina Senate Democratic Caucus, will not be held hostage by Republican leadership in delivering their handpicked casino developer in their pay-to-play scheme.”
While Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) was the lone Senate Democrat not originally on that letter, a spokesperson for the caucus later said he has since signed on to it.
House Democrats also released a letter Monday afternoon panning the proposal, saying that “Republicans are cynically using health care as a political bargaining chip to force passage of a casino bill developed in secret and written by casino lobbyists.” Of the 48 Democrats in the House, 40 of them signed it.
In an interview, CBS 17 asked Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) if the letter means that all 20 Senate Democrats will indeed vote against a bill that both legalizes more casinos and allows Medicaid expansion to take effect.
“I think all 20 Senate Democrats are prepared to vote this bill down because we’re not going to support a backroom deal that’s been cut on an incredibly important issue to the state,” he said. “I would also say that I think we’re in the early innings on how we deal with this bill.”
The potential legislation linking Medicaid expansion and casinos has not been released. It’s unclear if there would be enough support from Republican lawmakers for that bill to pass.
Over the weekend, CBS 17 did obtain a copy of the proposal to legalize the four additional casinos. To read more about that plan, click here.
On Monday, Sen. Berger’s office said these 14 counties would potentially qualify for the three commercial casinos that would be legalized under the bill: Anson, Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Rockingham, Tyrrell, Vance, Warren and Washington.
Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir) pointed out that local governing bodies in those communities will have to vote on whether they want a casino, and then Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration would make selections on which projects are authorized. The criteria for that have been determined by Republicans in the legislature.
“It’s beyond me, beyond the pale how someone could say that’s cronyism. Why in the world would we assign it to his administration for the choosing of who operates them if that were the case?” he said. “This whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. I can’t believe the things I hear, if someone will take the time to read the legislation.”
He also noted the provisions that call on potential developers to create at least 1,750 jobs and invest at least $500 million.
“These poor counties in the tier one areas that are losing population, we don’t have any other options like this. No one is standing in line to bring us these types of jobs,” he said. “They’re not asking for incentives. We’re not giving them tax dollars. What they want is an opportunity to do business here and bring us a ton of jobs.”
As far as whether there should be a separate bill linking Medicaid expansion to the casinos, Perry said he supported including the gambling proposal in the budget itself.
While the negotiations continue in Raleigh, there are people like DeAnna Brandon anxiously awaiting a resolution.
She’s among more than half a million people who would be eligible for health coverage once Medicaid expansion takes effect. Republicans already agreed to move forward with expansion earlier this year, but made it contingent on the budget being enacted, which still has not happened.
Brandon, of Salisbury, has been diagnosed with a rare blood cancer but cannot afford the stem cell treatment she needs.
“Why is an entertainment-type thing tied to something linked to people’s lives and health? That’s confusing,” she said. “There’s me and other people like me that their lives are hanging in the balance. And, if this doesn’t pass soon, my young grandchildren may not have any memories of me because I may pass away before they even start school and they even remember who I am.”