The state’s budget impasse will continue at least until the spring, and maybe even longer, and that is not sitting well with state Sen. Bob Steinburg.
The state Senate met for a one-day session on Tuesday with Republican leaders hoping to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state’s two-year budget plan. The Senate’s leaders didn’t call a vote, however, after it was apparent they didn’t have the votes for a successful override.
Because a supermajority vote was required, GOP leaders needed either one Democratic senator to favor the override or two Democratic senators to be absent from the session and all Republican senators present and voting. Neither happened on Tuesday. As a result, lawmakers adjourned, keeping the budget impasse intact until April when they’re scheduled to reconvene.
Cooper vetoed the budget plan backed by Republican majorities in the House and Senate, in part because it failed to expand Medicaid and didn’t give teachers a big enough pay raise.
Without a budget, teachers and public-school support personnel such as cafeteria works will go without a raise. Also, funding included in the budget for local projects — $32 million for a new library at Elizabeth City State University and another $2.5 million for a State Bureau of Investigation crime lab on the campus — will not be allocated.
Steinburg, R-Chowan, was critical of Democrats for not negotiating to end the impasse.
“I don’t think this is going to sit well with the voters of North Carolina when they understand what is lost with this and what is being gained, which is nothing by continuing to uphold the governor’s veto,” he said Tuesday.
Steinburg said Republicans are willing to hold separate negotiations on Medicaid and pushed a separate bill after Cooper’s budget veto that would have given teachers a 3.9-percent raise. The governor vetoed the latter legislation, however, saying the raises were not big enough. The Senate failed to override that veto on Tuesday.
“I don’t know how the Democrats can possibly rationalize using the education argument or the Medicaid argument as to why they have now held the budget hostage for six-plus months,” Steinburg said. “To me, these are discussions we can have separately.’’
Steinburg said teachers across the 12 counties in the district he represents have voiced support for passing the Republican-backed budget.
“The teachers are going to get no raise as a result of this maneuver,” he said. “They need so much more in education in terms of support. There is $10 million-plus in this budget for school construction or remodeling (in District 1).”
Cooper’s Medicaid plan would loosen requirements that would expand health care coverage for about 600,000 residents. It would cost $2.1 billion, with $1.9 billion of that paid by the federal government. The remainder will be covered by hospitals and health plans, the governor has said.
Like other GOP critics of Medicaid expansion, Steinburg questions whether the $1.9 billion in federal money will always be available. He said other states are suffering huge deficits in their expanded Medicaid plans.
“I will acknowledge that we need more access to healthcare,” Steinburg said. “We have states like New York that has expanded Medicaid and is facing a $4 billion Medicaid deficit. We have Virginia with a Medicaid deficit, Arizona with a Medicaid deficit. We, up until five, six years ago, had Medicaid deficits every single year of $400 to $500 million until we got that straightened around.”
Major portions of the budget became law when they were included in a series of seven “mini-budget” bills that passed the House and Senate and signed into law by Cooper. But none of those budgets included the millions of dollars intended for the projects like the ones at ECSU.
The General Assembly is not scheduled to meet again until late April and Steinburg is not sure if the budget impasse will end during that short session. Items not funded in the budget plan vetoed by Cooper will receive funding at the previous year’s budget levels.
“But there is no new money, and that is really unfortunate because this new money for our region is critical,” Steinburg said. “We were turning the corner and things were moving forward in northeastern North Carolina and (Democrats) are throwing a wrench into this.’’