With the summer holidays finished and kids back in school, the long session of the North Carolina General Assembly is exiting turn four and headed down the back straight to the checkered flag of this monumental and historic legislative session.
Over the next week, some major decisions will be made by North Carolina’s leading political actors on both sides of the aisle, with particular focus on Republicans in the North Carolina House of Representatives.
It has already been a successful legislative session for North Carolina’s longest-serving speaker of the N.C. House, Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.
Moore successfully recruited Charlotte Rep. Tricia Cotham to join the Republican Party, giving the Republican House Caucus 72 members, the exact number required to override vetoes. The state Senate is similar, with 30 out of 50 GOP members, the exact number needed to override vetoes if all members are present and voting and no Democrats vote with the GOP.
While the Cotham addition has been important, she has rarely been determinative. Several of the successful veto overrides this session have passed with additional Democrat votes in the N.C. House, including two important charter school bills, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, and a bill protecting children from unnecessary life-altering sex-change surgeries.
But having a veto-proof number of members is not the same thing as having the votes. Speaker Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, have done an incredible job uniting their caucuses on difficult issues this session. Can they do it again?
Not just another roll of the dice
Springsteen might call it “Just another roll of the dice” in a country that is embracing legalized gambling more and more, but in North Carolina and in the House caucus, it is anything but. As noted by Carolina Journal, the biggest unresolved issue under consideration on Jones Street is the expansion of casino gambling. Last week, the press reported on an email from House Speaker Tim Moore, saying the votes did not exist to pass a budget that included adding four casinos in North Carolina.
However, this might not be the final answer.
One of the sticking points in the state budget negotiations is the $1.4 billion proposed in the Senate version for NCInnovation, a private non-profit created by some North Carolina business leaders in 2018, aimed at providing grants for applied research at select UNC-system universities. The project has raised $23 million over the last five years, with pledges for more, but now its leadership wants taxpayers to provide the sizable allotment to bridge the gap between North Carolina’s research and development capacity and the state’s ability to increase commercialization of those outputs in the marketplace.
The $1.4 billion would represent nearly 5% of the state’s total $29 billion budget.
The House is adopting a more moderate funding position. It appears the House will support $250 million for two years for the fund, for a total of $500 million. This is a significant and risky spending proposal, but better for spending hawks than the $1.4-billion-dollar proposal.
What will the tax cuts look like?
Republicans in both chambers agree North Carolina can continue to cut North Carolina’s income tax. Republicans have for over a decade made a priority of cutting North Carolina’s uncompetitive state income tax rate, which ballooned to over 8% during Democrat Gov. Bev Perdue’s time in office (2009-2013).
In 2022, NC personal income taxes decreased from 5.25% of one’s income to 4.99%. In future years, savings will grow as the personal income tax decreases to 3.99%. However, Republicans this year want to go further, cutting the rate to somewhere between 2.25% and 3%. However, the size of tax cuts is closely tied to potential revenue from new casinos. The exact size of the cuts is connected to the decision to roll the dice or not.
Republicans have agreed in principle to expand Medicaid coverage but have to pass a budget to make it happen. Will they? Will the GOP get cold feet on this proposal after warnings like this?
Look for the legislature to take action against the Roy Cooper-controlled State Board of Education after the Democrat-majority board spit in the eye of the legislature on the issue of charter schools.
This could be the week North Carolina passes a massive expansion of school choice. North Carolina lawmakers are on the verge of expanding the state’s voucher program, which will make every student eligible to receive an “opportunity scholarship” to a private school, something conservatives have been fighting decades for.
Note: The legislature will conclude major work for the year sometime on Sept. 15, with the expected passage of the budget and a key election appointments bill. The legislature will return in October for redistricting and to pass veto overrides.