A number of Raleigh politicos expected legislative leadership to announce a budget agreement this week. On Tuesday, however, tales of a budget agreement came and went.
House Republicans announced on Tuesday that they will not hold any more votes this week and plan to come back into Raleigh next week. The state budget, originally expected to finalize by the end of June, has fallen victim to differing House and Senate priorities. At this point, Republican leaders are unlikely to reach an agreement this month.
The Senate wants to legalize widespread gambling in North Carolina. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, is playing hardball with House Republican leadership in order to get four new casinos and statewide legalization for video lottery terminals (VLTs). One of the casinos would be built in Rockingham County.
According to inside sources, Berger offered House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, three different options with regard to the state budget:
- The budget includes casinos and House member projects
- The budget does not include casinos or House member projects
- No budget this year
According to additional sources, the House plan is to send the Senate a budget that still includes House projects and does not include casinos.
Moore changes the vote threshold
Moore had initially told Berger that his plan was to move forward with casinos and VLT language in the budget if a majority of Republicans, or 37, supported doing so. However, an email obtained by Michael Hyland of WNCN revealed that Moore announced a threshold of 61 Republicans, which would be a majority of votes in the House chamber.
Berger told reporters that Moore had moved the goalpost “into another stadium” when he learned about the 61-vote threshold.
“It’s inconsistent with everything I’d been told up to that point,” Berger said.
Multiple inside House sources say Moore initially told caucus members the threshold for including gambling in the state budget would be 37 House Republicans.
Cooper told reporters he is considering a veto of the state budget, which includes universal school choice. If Cooper vetoes the budget, lawmakers in the House would need 72 votes to override his veto. House lawmakers only need 61 votes to send a budget to Cooper’s desk for consideration.
State lawmakers passed a bill that expands Medicaid in North Carolina, which Cooper signed into law earlier this year; however, in that law, Medicaid expansion is tied to the passage of a state budget this year. Thus, if Cooper vetoes the state budget, he is vetoing Medicaid expansion, possibly his biggest priority during his tenure as governor.
Republicans hold 72 out of 120 House seats. Typically, all Republicans and a handful of Democrats vote in favor of the state budget. However, 30 House Republicans said they would not vote for the state budget if it includes gambling.
If true, at least 19 Democrats would need to vote for the budget to send it to Cooper’s desk, and that would still be 11 shy of the margin needed to override a Cooper veto.
Some believe if the budget were on the floor, many of the 30 Republicans who voted against including gambling in the budget would vote for it anyway since they would also be voting against a number of key conservative priorities.
Additionally, if a state budget does move forward, Cooper and N.C. Democrats have boxed themselves into a potentially odd scenario. Cooper and many prominent elected Democrats have continuously demanded legislative Republicans pass a state budget for more than a month in order to implement Medicaid expansion. They have often pointed to a number of individuals who are waiting on coverage. However, Cooper and legislative Democrats may oppose a budget, seemingly contradicting prior statements.
house budget proposal questions
One House Republican shared concerns with the Carolina Journal that the budget proposal that House leadership plans to send over to the Senate would result in a budget deficit. The proposal would include House member projects and negotiated tax cuts but would not include the Senate’s gambling provisions. The proposed gambling measures are projected to add hundreds of millions—and eventually billions—of dollars in revenue for the state.
Cooper and Moore are now in agreement that gambling provisions should be run in a separate bill outside of the budget process, but Berger disagrees.
“From the House, we’re ready to move forward with a budget that does not include gaming,” Moore said. “Because there’s so many other great things in there that, frankly, need to be done for the people of North Carolina.”
As Speaker of the House, Moore has the power to move a budget, with or without gaming, forward for a floor vote. However, it could cost him goodwill with members of his own caucus.
On Tuesday, 23 House members requested excused absences. Twenty-two were Republicans.
The Senate appears willing to let the state budget without gambling included die on the vine, keeping the ball in the House’s court. At the same time, it appears the House does not have the votes for a budget that includes gambling, putting negotiations for the state budget in a weird place.