News: Quick Takes

Senate moves to keep federal dollars flowing as budget standoff continues 

State Senate leader Phil Berger (foreground) and Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow. (CJ file photo)
State Senate leader Phil Berger (foreground) and Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow. (CJ file photo)

A move to keep funding state programs that count on federal money is moving through the General Assembly.

Senate Republicans announced their plans in a news conference Tuesday, July 16.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, say federal dollars shouldn’t be at risk because lawmakers and the governor can’t agree on a spending plan.

The proposal would fund federal block grants for HHS, AG, Clean Water, and DEQ, Brown said. “It also includes funding for the suicide prevention hotline.

“Some folks have asked whether passing a mini-budget or several mini budgets will take care of particular items while everything else remains at a standstill,” Berger said. “Well, the legislature passed the budget and the governor is blocking that budget, or any budget based on our conversations, over his Medicaid-or-nothing ultimatum.”

Berger said he, along with the other legislative leaders in both chambers, had an hour-long phone call with the Gov. Roy Cooper. Cooper has made it clear that for budget negotiations to continue the plan must include Medicaid expansion, or that expansion be passed in advance. 

Ford Porter, a spokesman for the governor, issued a news release explaining provisions in Cooper’s compromise budget. That plan, in addition to expanding Medicaid, would end corporate tax cuts, raise teacher pay more than the General Assembly’s budget plan does, and combines a slightly smaller statewide school construction bond with the pay-as-you-go plan. 

“At every turn, Governor Cooper has worked to meet with legislative leaders and negotiate a compromise in good faith,” the statement says. “Thus far, Republicans have preferred gamesmanship, silly accusations, and power games.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the move with little discussion. Brown said he expects the Senate will take it up next week and send it to the House, which has already taken steps to fill gaps created by the budget standoff.  

Last week, House lawmakers amended H.B. 111, a temporary funding bill to keep certain programs afloat. The measure unanimously passed the House, which sent it to the Senate. Like the Senate measure, H.B. 111 ensures money is available for the suicide prevention hotline. 

The temporary funding bill also fully funds increases in Average Daily Membership for public schools, Raise the Age implementation, N.C. FAST, N.C. Promise, disaster relief, a steam plant project for Western Carolina University, and in-state tuition for veterans. Under the bill, Medicaid transformation plans can move forward.

Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has said the General Assembly should remain in session until the stalemate ends, but the Senate has floated the idea of leaving for a few weeks and coming back later. 

“I believe the speaker has an expectation that an override will take place,” Berger said. “I’m hopeful that is the case, but if we have been here for a while and there is no override, I don’t know if it makes a whole lot of sense to keep people here for an indefinite period of time.” 

Cooper vetoed House Bill 966, the biennium budget, June 28. Since then, the House on several occasions passed on holding an override vote, even though H.B. 966 remains on the calendar.