Republicans unveil compromise budget without Cooper demands
By Gary D. Robertson
RALEIGH — Republicans rolled out Tuesday the details of a compromise state budget that’s been essentially hammered out by GOP legislators, without much influence from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is adamant in pushing for Medicaid expansion.
After letter exchanges, some phone calls and at least one face-to-face meeting over the past couple of weeks, Cooper and the top House and Senate Republican leaders couldn’t generate constructive dialogue to narrow their differences. Each side blames the other.
This gap means Cooper likely will veto the measure once the budget is approved by the GOP-controlled House and Senate. Legislative votes are set to begin Wednesday. A summer stalemate is likely if Cooper can keep his Democrats united to uphold the veto.
But Republicans still pitched the budget to colleagues for its money for public school construction and renovations, teacher and state employee raises, and reserves for the next recession. There are also some tax reductions for business and individuals in the budget, which would spend $24 billion next year.
“This is a budget that Republicans, Democrats and anything in between ought to be happy with because this is a budget that’s not about partisan politics,” House Speaker Tim Moore said.
Cooper says Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger have failed to move off their positions to reduce corporate taxes, offer small teacher pay raises and refuse to consider Medicaid expansion. Moore and Berger complained that Cooper wouldn’t provide specific recommendations and is fixated on expanding Medicaid.
While Berger and Moore are opposed to expansion, their budget proposal includes a provision encouraging Cooper to call a special legislative session to consider health care access legislation, including expansion. While there’s no requirement expansion would pass during that session, Republicans consider it a concession.
“We believe we’ve offered him a clear path forward,” Berger told reporters. “We can’t preordain the outcome of any policy proposal, but we can at least bring it up for discussion.”
Cooper’s office took to social media to blast the GOP’s narrative with a spokesman later calling the GOP plan a “bad budget that has the wrong priorities.” Cooper offered his own budget in March. He’s also been consistent in opposing corporate tax cuts he says siphons revenue from public schools, seeking a multimillion-dollar bond package for schools and infrastructure, and covering hundreds of thousands more low-income residents through Medicaid.
“Why would we have a special session just on Medicaid expansion when all the legislators are already here, in session, with several bills that seek to expand Medicaid?” Cooper spokeswoman Sadie Weiner asked on Twitter.
The fiscal year begins Monday, but there’s no government shutdown because state law directs government to remain funded at current-year levels.
The Republican plan doesn’t propose a $1.9 billion bond referendum like House Republicans wanted but sides with the Senate offer to build more by spending more money from existing tax revenue, rather than from issuing debt. The plan envisions spending $4.4 billion over the next year on K-12 construction projects. Moore said the House successfully got another $300 million injected into a special fund to accelerate construction.
According to Republican budget-writers or the final budget text released later Tuesday, the spending plan also would:
• Give 2.5% pay raises for rank-and-file state employees in each of the two years.
• Provide average roughly 2% pay raises annually for public school teachers and emphasize raising pay levels for teachers with at least 16 years of experience. Teachers with at least 25 years of experience also would get $500 annual bonuses. Cooper wanted 5% average raises, with all teachers getting one.
• Direct the Department of Health and Human Services to move its offices from the old Dorothea Dix Hospital campus in Raleigh an hour away to Granville County. Most of the Dix workers — there are currently 2,300 on-site — already have to leave the campus by 2025.
• Omit a Senate provision that would reduce Medicaid payments by $35 million to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, which is in a governance fight with the University of North Carolina Board of Governors. The bill does require the center’s board to restore spots for UNC board appointees as a condition to keep construction funds flowing to the East Carolina University medical school.