Political Notebook: Local lawmakers react to governor’s proposed 2021-23 budget

Published 2:08 am Monday, March 29, 2021

After Gov. Roy Cooper proposed a budget for the 2021-23 biennium last week, local lawmakers said they support some proposals but worry about the ability to compromise if Medicaid expansion remains a sticking point.

A new budget was not finalized in North Carolina for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years, with Cooper vetoing the approved budget in 2020 due to the exclusion of Medicaid expansion. Thus, the state has primarily operated on the spending amounts outlined in the 2018-19 fiscal year budget.

Cooper has proposed $27.4 billion in spending for 2021-22 and $28.5 billion in 2022-23. His budget calls for school employee raises, Medicaid expansion and investments in infrastructure and health care. He does not propose raising any taxes.

Additionally, Cooper said federal funds from the American Rescue Plan can be invested into broadband, water and sewer infrastructure, business assistance, education and workforce training needs, with an announcement on how they’ll be allocated still to come.

For education needs, Cooper is proposing a 10% raise on average for K-12 teachers over the 2021-23 biennium, with non-certified school personnel earning $15 an hour. He proposes investing $78 million in early education and child development and $80 million to hire more school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers.

Additionally, he proposes investing nearly $1.4 billion in 2021-22 and at least $1.9 billion in 2022-23 to improve pay, provide bonuses, implement a new pay plan and continue benefits for state employees and state-funded local employees, including teachers and principals, with cost-of-living adjustments and bonuses for state government retirees.

Cooper has proposed $1.1 billion in cash capital investments going toward UNC system projects, state agency projects and energy-efficient improvements across the state. And with the current low interest rates, he is also proposing a $4.7 billion general obligation bond be placed on the November 2021 ballot for public schools, colleges, parks and recreation centers and historic sites to address documented needs.

A total of $45.44 million is being proposed for economic relief to businesses. Cooper also calls for funding to be allocated to “advance equity in our healthcare, economic, criminal justice and education systems through strategic investments.” He proposes $100 million in investments to clean energy.

Cooper is proposing $5 billion be invested for the expansion of Medicaid, adding that the American Rescue Plan provides an additional $1.7 billion in funds to support Medicaid expansion without the state covering any cost share for up to six years.

“We must get health care to more working people and the best way to do that is to expand Medicaid,” Cooper said in a statement. “I am ready to work with legislative leadership and members of both political parties here in North Carolina to find a way forward.”

Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican representing Rowan and Stanly counties and the lone pharmacist in the General Assembly, said lawmakers with a background in health would like to see the expansion of health care, but it’s not likely Republicans will pass Medicaid expansion as it’s presented.

“But we would like to see some compromise,” Sasser added.

Those compromises may result in “smaller bites of the apple,” he said, because constituents suffer otherwise.

Sasser supports investing money into the state’s infrastructure, prioritizing broadband access and providing raises for school employees, but it’s not likely the amounts the governor is requesting will ultimately be the amounts approved.

If the governor continues to veto any budget that doesn’t include Medicaid expansion, it may force lawmakers to pass single bills to obtain raises for teachers and address the needs of each district, Sasser said.

“We have money. We just have to spend it in the right place,” he said. “That money sitting in a checking account for the state is not helping my constituents have broadband and things we need that we have the money to pay for. We provided a budget (last year). We weren’t the ones who vetoed it because of Medicaid expansion.”

Rep. Julia Howard, a Republican who represents Rowan and Davie counties, currently serves as the senior chairman of the House Finance Committee, which is tasked with determining the amount of the state’s revenue. Appropriations committees then determine how those available funds should be allocated.

Howard said the Finance Committee has been meeting with the Senate once a week for about six weeks, but it has not yet conducted a deep dive into the budget because it was first presented last week. She and the three other chairs of the Finance Committee will ultimately make recommendations to House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore, R-111, which she anticipates will take up to a month.

She added the state will have the ability to pass tax cuts using state funding, especially as funding from the federal American Rescue Plan will help offset some of the state’s other expenses.

For the 2021-23 biennium, the Senate is charged with putting together the budget. Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, said subcommittees will begin “meeting in earnest” this week.

He added that a governor’s budget, as presented, is never what’s ultimately passed, regardless of party.

“The governor can ask for whatever he wants, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get it,” Ford said. “The governor isn’t responsible for the funds that belong to the taxpayers.”

Ford said he supports granting raises for school employees, but said the proposed amounts are “astronomical.” Additionally, most Republicans, he said, are against Medicaid expansion because they’re continuing to add hundreds of North Carolinians with disabilities to the Medicaid program.

“We want to finish that before we put able-bodied people on,” he said.

Ford said the General Assembly will have some skeletal sessions throughout the week of Easter, but many lawmakers will be in Raleigh working to meet upcoming deadlines for filing legislation. April 6 is the deadline for all Senate bills to be filed.

Members of the House have until April 8 to file local bills and until May 4 to file public bills not related to appropriations or finance.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said the budget has not been among his top priorities at this time because he is leading more than a dozen bills in the House. He added that the governor’s budget is simply a tool that helps make the General Assembly aware of his priorities.

“I’ve never gotten into a governor’s budget with a fine-tooth comb,” Warren said.

Warren said he continues to identify the needs of his constituents back home to ensure his district receives appropriate funding in the budget. Some of those have been addressed in legislation, including the ApSeed program expansion (House Bill 74) and funding for the N.C. Transportation Museum (H.B. 45). Warren is requesting $4.5 million in funds for the museum across the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal years.

The governor’s full budget can be viewed by visiting osbm.nc.gov/budget/governors-budget-recommendations.

Rowan County Democrats to hold virtual convention April 10

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Democratic Party will virtually host its annual convention at 10 a.m. on April 10.

Democrats expect to elect new county officers, four state executive committee members from the county and delegates to the Congressional District Convention. Additionally, the party plans to vote on any proposed resolutions from the county precincts.

Those who wish to attend can visit www.mobilize.us/rowandemocrats/event/379735/ to register.

The convention is open to any Democrat or ally, but only elected precinct delegates from the county will vote or participate in any floor debate.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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