News: CJ Exclusives

Piecemeal spending plans move through General Assembly as budget stalemate drags on 

While the budget stalemate continues, lawmakers are working to pass pieces of the General Fund budget bill with measures that include pay raises for some state employees. 

Meantime, Gov. Roy Cooper used a Tuesday, Aug. 27, news conference to attack Republican lawmakers for refusing to include Medicaid expansion in the General Fund budget — even though he insisted he wasn’t issuing an ultimatum.

During a Tuesday morning meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, GOP lawmakers introduced four bits of the budget as conference reports and proposed committee substitutes. 

Three of the bills — dealing with State Highway Patrol salary increases, state employee pay raises, and pay increases for State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Law Enforcement officers — are conference reports. Conference reports cannot be amended. House Bill 426, which deals with higher education and retiree bonuses, is a PCS and can be amended on the floor. 

Most state employees would see a 2.5% pay raise in both years of the biennium and a one-time five additional days of annual leave. Non-certified school employees, such as custodians and teaching assistants, would see a 1% pay raise for the first year of the biennium. State retirees would get a 0.5% cost-of-living supplement for both years of the biennium, but the funds are non-recurring. 

None of the bills included teacher pay raises.

The raises would be retroactive to July 1, the beginning of the state’s budget year.

The conference reports passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday with little discussion, although Democratic lawmakers expressed doubts about the piecemeal approach and said the raises for non-certified school staff were too low. 

H.B. 426 later passed the House by a 65-48 vote, but House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, objected to a third reading. Jackson said Democrats planned to introduce amendments before the body takes a final vote, most likely Wednesday.

During his news conference, Cooper said he would review each of the bills carefully before deciding whether to sign or veto them.

“I will analyze each bill that comes to me, but this piecemeal approach is a disaster,” Cooper said. Citing the federal government’s practice of funding the federal budget with continuing resolutions rather than separate appropriations bills, he said, “It hasn’t worked for Washington, and it won’t work for us.” 

Cooper vetoed the $24 billion General Fund budget June 28, and has since been locked in a stalemate with the General Assembly. Medicaid expansion has been at the center of the impasse. Cooper and Democratic lawmakers want to expand the program, but Republican leaders haven’t backed the idea. 

The budget includes a provision calling for a special session to discuss health-care reforms separately, but that wasn’t enough to sway the governor. 

Cooper admitted negotiations between executive and legislative staff members continue, and he has spoken privately with Republican legislative leaders. But public negotiations have been largely nonexistent. Cooper repeated Medicaid expansion must be a part of any budget negotiations. Under questioning by reporters, he rejected Republicans’ characterization of his position as Medicaid expansion or nothing. 

The N.C. Republican Party isn’t buying the argument. 

“While one moment Governor Cooper proclaimed there is no Medicaid ultimatum, in his next breath he said it ‘must be included’ in the budget debate,” Michael Whatley, the N.C. Republican Party chairman, said in an emailed statement. “For all his complaining about shortchanging education, Cooper vetoed a larger teacher pay raise last year than he is proposing this year.”