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Rowan legislators mixed on whether a state budget will pass

SALISBURY — In July, the N.C. General Assembly’s long session typically adjourns shortly after passage of the budget. Now in November, the legislature will continue to meet this week and there is still no budget.

Legislators will return to their chambers at noon Wednesday.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said this year is truly a “long session.” Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, said his first year in the Senate has felt like two sessions.

Agreeable sections of the budget have been passed and put into effect through smaller bills. But because of unresolved disagreements between Republicans and Gov. Roy Cooper that include Medicaid expansion, Rowan County is still waiting for funding for projects that include $2.25 million toward renovations at the N.C. Transportation Museum, $50,000 for the Bell Tower Green park and equipment for two fire departments. Last year’s budget will remain the guide for funding.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-77, said there’s a stalemate between the Republican-led General Assembly and the Democratic governor. The budget was vetoed this summer. And while the House was able to override Cooper’s veto in a surprise vote on Sept. 11, the Senate has been unable to get enough votes to pass an override in that chamber.

Cooper says he wants higher teacher raises, no corporate tax cuts and Medicaid expansion included in the budget.

“We’ve done all that we can do to pull out some of the pieces,” Howard said.

Howard said the lawmakers have worked on growing the state’s surplus but can’t agree on how to spend it. And Howard said she does not think the legislature and Cooper will be able to agree on the budget at all, even with added time.

Warren said he thinks that a budget will be passed but after the filing period for 2020 elections next month. He says Democratic members are worried the governor will threaten them with a primary challenge if they vote for a veto override.

He’s asking Rowan County to be patient on the Senate override.

“The budget was a bipartisan vote,” Warren said. “There’s a lot of things in there for districts that are predominately Democrat and represented by Democrats. It’s not a one-sided budget.”

Warren said teacher raises shouldn’t be a bargaining chip for Medicaid.

All three Rowan County representatives voted for the veto override.

Senate Leader Phil Berger has said the Senate would adjourn by Oct. 31 with or without a budget veto override vote. According to Ford, that’s in part because Senate leaders didn’t think they had the votes for an override. So, they decided “to walk” because there was no use in taking a vote knowing it was going to fail.

Ford and other legislators will continue to be in Raleigh as a part of the Redistricting and Elections Committee. They are now tasked with redrawing congressional maps after a North Carolina court ruled that Republicans unlawfully manipulated district lines for partisan gain. The courts have approved recently redrawn legislative maps.

Ford said redrawing the legislative maps without an updated census goes against the state constitution. And he noted that the maps will be redrawn for three elections in a row — 2018, 2020 and 2022— which he says is confusing for voters and the candidates running for office.

There is no continuity, Ford said. The maps will have to done and done quickly because filing for Congress begins Dec. 2.

Warren, who also on the Redistricting and Elections Committee, said he has seen several versions of districts in Rowan County, one keeping the whole county together and others that split the county in two or three parts.

Moving over from the House, Ford said he has achieved some simple but impactful accomplishments for his district, including voluntary annexation bills for Kannapolis and China Grove. He’s looking ahead to more funding for roads, including creating a turn lane at the intersection of N.C. 152 and N.C. 29.

Warren said he continues to push several bills forward on school lead testing, historic tax credits for schools and reducing environmental waste. With the redistricting coming up numerous times in the General Assembly, he hopes the elections bills get some attention. That includes his own N.C. FAIR State & Congressional Districts Act, which creates an independent redistricting process.

Because the long session has been extended, Warren expects the short session in 2020, which is typically for tweaking the budget and working on passing several bills, to be shorter than usual, especially as legislators get into campaign season.

Howard said she is looking to improve infrastructure in her district and provide broadband across the rural areas.

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