NC House Democrats criticizes budget delay. Final plan may be weeks away.

By: - July 12, 2023 6:23 pm

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives criticizes Republicans for the delayed state budget. (Photo: Lynn Bonner)

Republican legislators’ failure to agree on a state budget is delaying Medicaid expansion, teacher and state employee raises, and state retiree cost-of-living increases. 

House Democrats criticized the lack of a new spending plan at a news conference Wednesday. The new budget year started on July 1, but negotiations between legislative Republicans may drag on for another month. 

Republican leaders have said that they are working to negotiate a compromise on tax cuts. Potential expansion of casino and video gambling could also be in the mix. 

Rep. Jason Saine, senior chairman of the House budget committee said Wednesday it may be the middle of August before the state has a budget.

Rep. Jason Saine, senior chairman of the House budget committee (Photo: NCGA screen grab)

The Senate and House had different ideas on how big a boost employees should get, making raises one of the issues under negotiation. 

The Republican budget impasse has left school districts in limbo, Wake County Democratic Rep. Julie von Haefen said at the news conference. Year-round schools are already beginning and traditional schools are set to open in six weeks.

“How can we possibly ask our administrators to begin operating our schools when they don’t even know what the state appropriation is going to be to their districts,” she said.

The budget impasse adds to difficulties recruiting teachers because potential new hires won’t know how much they’ll earn. “Would you accept a contract to start a job with an undefined salary? That is exactly what Republicans are asking our teachers to do at this point. Accept jobs for uncertain pay,” she said. 

Once the budget passes, teacher and state employees’ raises will be retroactive, so state workers will eventually receive their money. At this point, they don’t know how much. 

Medicaid expansion remains on hold as unwinding begins

Last March, North Carolina became the 40th state to adopt Medicaid expansion, but Republicans made expansion contingent upon passing a budget. That means initiation of a plan that could offer up to 600,000 more North Carolinians health insurance is also delayed. 

Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper urged Republicans to decouple Medicaid and the budget. House Democratic leader Robert Reives repeated the call to separate expansion from the budget. 

In the meantime, states including North Carolina are dropping people from Medicaid programs. A federal mandate that prevented states from removing people from Medicaid has expired. Thousands of North Carolina residents who were able to remain insured during the pandemic are likely to lose their health insurance coverage.  Some of those people would be able to stay insured under Medicaid expansion. 

“This month alone, we have 9,000 people who will lose Medicaid coverage that would otherwise keep it,” Reives said. 

“I want to echo Governor Cooper’s urge to decouple Medicaid expansion from the budget, because we’re looking at a prolonged stand-off it seems,” Reives said. “We need to keep in mind that everybody in this state is waiting for something in this budget, especially state employees, and we owe it to them to provide the best that we can.”

 

Everybody in this state is waiting for something in this budget, especially state employees.

– House Democratic leader Robert Reives

Saine, a Lincoln County Republican, said Democrats were grandstanding, and most of them won’t vote for the budget anyway. Budgets have been late before, he said. 

“This is about us being very pragmatic and working through a very complicated multi-billion budget that sets our state on course,” he said. “These things do take time and being intentional and pragmatic means we get the best deal we can get. At this point, we’re not there yet.”

Saine said he understands that Senate Republicans want to include as part of the budget allowing more casinos, but he has not seen a final offer in writing. 

Western North Carolina has three casinos in its part of the state. Two are owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee. The Catawba Nation owns one in Kings Mountain. 

Allowing casinos outside tribal lands was not in the House or Senate budget. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger spoke to WRAL about a potential casino bill as  the legislature was approving online sports betting. 

The bigger issue holding up the budget are the accelerated tax cuts and “how quickly we get to a lower number on tax reform and whether there are going to be triggers,” Saine said Wednesday. Most House Republicans want tax-cut triggers based on state revenues, a plan where tax rates would drop if revenues reach certain targets. 

It’s harder to sell faster tax cuts without knowing if more money will be coming in, he said.  

“We could do tax reform, we could do casinos, we could do them both, but until we know exactly what they’re going to look like, it is a little difficult,” Saine said. 

Updated at 10:00 pm to correct spelling of Julie von Haefen. 

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.

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