Cooper open to signing final NC budget expected next week

Published 11:42 pm Wednesday, November 10, 2021

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s extended budget negotiations will come to a head next week with the House and Senate voting on a final spending plan, officials said Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper has suggested he could sign it into law, even though he wouldn’t get everything he wants, in particular Medicaid expansion.

GOP Rep. Jason Saine, a top budget writer from Lincoln County, and Senate leader Phil Berger’s office confirmed that votes are expected next week on a two-year state government budget worked out between the two chambers.

Negotiations between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor phased out as Cooper presented what was described as his final offer last Friday, Saine said, and House and Senate leaders made adjustments earlier this week.

“We’ve exhausted the conversations,” Saine said. But Cooper has provided lots of input that should end up in the final legislative bill.

A statement posted on Cooper’s Twitter handle Wednesday said that Republican leaders have informed him that the budget being released early next week will contain a “number of the governor’s priorities that were proposed in his budget and discussed in negotiations over the last few weeks, including increased education funding.”

But it will leave out the wholesale expansion of Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income adults that Cooper’s has sought since taking office in 2017, according to the tweet. House Speaker Tim Moore had already said his caucus wouldn’t support expansion, even as Berger was ready to accept it given the right situation.

An approved final measure would then go to Cooper’s desk for his review. In contrast to the 2019 budget talks, when the absence of Medicaid expansion contributed to a Cooper veto and caused a stalemate that never got fully resolved, the governor is keeping options open.

After reviewing the plan, Cooper “will make a decision to sign or veto the budget based on what is best for the people of North Carolina,” the tweet said.

Pat Ryan, a Berger spokesperson, also said he expected action on the budget next week. Except for specifics on the plan’s release date, he didn’t take issue with the contents of Cooper’s tweet.

Saine said Cooper’s willingness to sign the measure reflects what Saine considers the serious budget negotiations that have been held since Moore and Berger agreed six weeks ago on their first offer to the governor.

“No one has left mad, no one has left upset … no one has gotten everything they wanted,” Saine said, but “it looks to me that because of that he is going to seriously consider signing the budget.”

Republicans also may have more leverage compared to 2019 because of the levels of Democratic support for the original House and Senate budget bills approved in the summer. Republicans probably would only need the votes of three House Democrats and two Senate Democrats to override a Cooper veto.

Saine said he was fairly confident of a successful override in part because Democrats who originally voted for the original legislative budgets have been involved in crafting a final package that’s “got a lot for everybody.”

A state government budget was supposed to be in place when the new fiscal year began July 1. But a later tax filing deadline, a massive revenue surplus and billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief have complicated creating spending plans and negotiating them.