As Cooper makes offer, efforts to advance NC budget stall

North Carolina
Gov. Roy Cooper - June 21, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)

The drive to enact a new North Carolina state budget idled Tuesday even as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper made a counteroffer to the two-year plan he’s already vetoed, and Republicans failed again to locate enough votes to override him.

House GOP leaders tried unsuccessfully on Monday and Tuesday to woo the several Democrats they need to override Cooper’s veto as long as the chamber’s Republican majority stays united. Democratic seat gains in the 2018 elections mean GOP lawmakers now lack veto-proof control in both the House and Senate, which they had the previous two years.

Although both chambers must pass override votes in order to implement the vetoed budget, the focus is on the House, where likely six or seven Democratic defections are needed. House Speaker Tim Moore of Cleveland County said he wasn’t giving up on that even as he declined to hold an override vote while the floor session was extended for several hours.

“We’re going to keep working at this point,” Moore told reporters. “We’re very close. We’re very close to an override.” Moore wouldn’t give specifics.

Still, in a sign that an override may not happen and any budget compromise could be weeks away, House budget-writers said they would advance a separate measure Wednesday to help fund more government programs in the new fiscal year that began July 1. There is no threat of a government shutdown, however.

Cooper said he remained confident that enough Democrats would uphold his veto as he disclosed publicly earlier Tuesday a budget offer he sent to Republican leaders. Cooper said his offer was a “serious compromise” that he hoped would ultimately lead to a final budget deal.

“We have put now a very specific proposal on the table,” Cooper said. “This opens up the matter to serious negotiations and give and take.”

Cooper insisted that Medicaid expansion must be included in part of any agreement, even though Senate Republicans remain strongly opposed to the idea. Cooper said he would prefer not to place additional premium and work requirements upon expansion participants — as contained in a House proposal approved by a committee Tuesday, but then sent to the floor and never voted upon. But he said he was willing to talk about such mandates.

“Those are items that can be discussed as we continue to negotiate this budget,” Cooper said.

Talks, however, quickly stalled. Negotiations won’t happen, according to Senate leader Phil Berger, unless the governor takes his “Medicaid ultimatum” off the table for budget talks. Berger reiterated Tuesday he’s open to having a special legislative session later this year to address health care access, including expansion.

“We’re willing to have a conversation about health care,” Berger said. “It’s just that for the governor to hold up the entire budget on that one issue strikes me as something that’s just totally inappropriate.”

Separate from Medicaid expansion, Cooper’s offer would tell Republicans to eliminate their proposed corporate franchise tax cuts and halt planned enrollment increases in a program that gives taxpayer-funded scholarships to K-12 students to attend private or religious schools. Cooper is opposed to vouchers.

He still wants to put a $3.5 billion bond package before voters for public schools and other government buildings. Republicans agreed to build by using existing tax revenues, not by borrowing. Cooper said he would more than double the average teacher pay raise than what Republicans offered — 8.5% over two years compared to 3.8% in the GOP proposal.

Still, Republicans said they passed a great budget and kept trying to portray Cooper as unreasonable on Medicaid expansion.

“Cooper is holding the entire state hostage to coerce one policy preference at the expense of all North Carolinians,” state Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and rules committee chairman.

But House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said Republicans shouldn’t have spent so much time Tuesday trying to lure colleagues and should have considered Cooper’s offer more closely.

“It’s a day we didn’t get anything accomplished,” Jackson said. “We didn’t move the ball forward.”

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