RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republicans in the General Assembly will hold votes next week on the state budget despite not reaching an agreement with Gov. Roy Cooper (D).
It remains unclear what action Cooper will take.
“I think we’ve come to a place where we’ve exhausted what we needed to talk about,” said state Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), one of the lead budget writers in the House. “There’s not been any acrimony. No one’s mad at anyone. We’ve just kind of exhausted the process.”
Cooper acknowledged the negotiations with the Republicans led to more money going toward education but did not include Medicaid expansion to cover hundreds of thousands more people without health insurance.
That was a key reason why the two sides never reached an agreement two years ago.
He could sign the budget anyway, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
Rep. Saine said he’s confident Republicans have enough Democrats willing to vote with them in the event Cooper does veto the budget.
“We wouldn’t be moving forward if we didn’t have some confidence that we could move with an override,” he said. “It really does show a lot of compromise on all sides, folks meeting in the middle and getting to a place where most feel comfortable.”
Democratic Rep. Billy Richardson (D-Cumberland) said he will vote in favor of the budget and has been a part of the negotiations.
He supports the pay raises for state workers and teachers, which he said are close to 5 percent over two years, as well as the investments that will be made in infrastructure, funding for higher education institutions in his district and funding for East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine.
“This is good, commonsense budgeting. Is there everything I want in there? No,” he said, noting he thinks the state should expand Medicaid. North Carolina is one of 12 states that has not since the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress.
He said he could still support the state budget without that, not wanting to see a repeat of 2019 when no traditional budget was ever passed and signed into law.
“It’s asinine for a legislature to be so at odds with each other and so unwilling to compromise that we not have a budget,” he said. “I hope that the Governor sees the wisdom of either signing the budget or letting the budget go into law. It’s been four years now. We desperately need to show people we can work together and get that done.”
When asked if he would vote to override a veto if Cooper issues one, Richardson said he would approach that at the time. But he added this, “If I think the Governor is being unreasonable in his approach to this and compromising and working, then yeah I’ll override him. Absolutely. Too much at stake.”
After the House passed its version of the budget in August, state leaders entered into private discussions which have lasted months, not revealing many details of how those negotiations have unfolded.
Richardson said he felt like they made significant progress though, noting Democrats’ concerns about Republicans including provisions in the budget that would limit the governor’s emergency powers as well as the ability of Atty Gen. Josh Stein (D) to carry out his job.
“We’ve gotten a lot of those atrocious statements of limiting the power of the Governor and the Attorney General out,” Richardson said. “It’s crazy not to vote this budget in.”
He also said, and Rep. Saine confirmed, that Republicans are committing to holding more detailed discussions about expanding Medicaid during the spring session. Richardson described it as a “super committee” that will examine the issue.
While Senate Republicans were open to the idea of including Medicaid expansion in the budget, many House Republicans were unwilling.
“In this budget the House Republicans just do not feel like this is the place to expand Medicaid, and really they’re just not going to budge,” said Saine. “I think having that serious discussion first and then of course figure out if they’re going to support it. We just didn’t feel like it was one of those things we were going to hold over the heads of our members.”
Saine said details of the budget are expected to be made public Monday. The Senate will hold votes on Tuesday and Wednesday, he said, and the House will vote Wednesday evening and Thursday.
“We’re ready,” he said. “We’re keenly aware. It is way past time. The good news is we’re moving forward and moving forward quickly.”
Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, said discussions are still underway. He said they’re still hopeful Gov. Cooper will ultimately sign it.
It’s unclear if Democrats in the Senate will support the budget.
“Everything that I’ve heard up to this point tells me that we are not making anywhere the kind of investment we need to be making in public education,” said state Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake). “When it comes down to it, if we have a budget that doesn’t expand Medicaid and doesn’t make needed investments in public education, we’re going to be in the same place where we’re not going to pass a budget.”