The length of the 2019 legislative session — outside another rash of extra sessions — could come down to whether Gov. Roy Cooper and Senate Democrats are willing to bog down the state budget process for the sake of inserting some form of Medicaid expansion.
Cooper could also choose to veto the Republicans’ compromise budget bill to highlight disagreements over public education and environmental issues as well.
“With their budget, Senate Republicans once again prioritize more corporate tax cuts at the expense of public education, clean water and providing affordable health care for hard working North Carolinians,” Cooper’s office said.
“These are unacceptable priorities, and Gov. Cooper will continue pushing for a budget that represents middle class families instead of special interests and corporate shareholders.”
If that is the case, expectations for wrapping up the session around the Fourth of July holiday could go out the window.
On June 4, the House — as expected and typical for the budget process — failed to concur, or accept, Senate changes to House Bill 966. A concurrence committee was appointed June 6.
There’s an expectation among analysts that a compromise budget could be unveiled as early as this week, although the concurrence process has taken between one to nine weeks this decade.
The previous four budgets presented to Democratic governors Beverly Perdue and Cooper were vetoed, then overridden by the Republican-controlled legislature.
It took Perdue 10 days to veto the 2011-12 budget and eight days for the 2012-13 budget.
Perdue’s 2011 veto was overridden in three days on June 15, while her 2012 veto was overridden in four days on July 2.
Meanwhile, Cooper vetoed the 2017-18 and 2018-19 budgets five days after they were presented to him.
Cooper’s 2017 budget veto was overridden in one day on June 28, while his 2018 veto was overridden in six days on June 12.
This time, however, the ending of the GOP super-majorities in both chambers, particularly in the House, is likely to give Cooper leverage with GOP legislative leaders and with potential Democratic legislative flippers.
“The veto being sustained (in the Born-Alive abortion legislation) was the sign of a change in the balance of power in our state that we hadn’t yet seen realized in legislative debates,” said Brendan Riley, policy analyst with left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.
“It remains to be seen how Senate GOP leaders will respond to these dynamics.
“It’s long past time for lawmakers to close the coverage gap for the uninsured in North Carolina, and the governor has made that priority very clear.”
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said “there are some items in the House and Senate budgets (that) are designed to make it difficult for Democratic members to vote ‘No.’ “
“But the pressure in this process is mainly going to come from Cooper and the Democratic organization.
“They will hammer legislators from their own party who side with the Republicans on the budget,” Kokai said.
Interestingly, the longest traditional legislative sessions this decade involved Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican super-majorities.
In each case, McCrory did not veto the Republican budget bill.
However, the 2013 budget was not signed into law until July 26, the 2014 budget on Aug. 7, the 2015 budget on Sept. 18 and the 2016 budget on July 14.
It took the House and Senate budget writers between five and eight weeks for the 2013, 2014 and 2015 budgets to generate a concurrence report. In 2016, it took 19 days.
McCrory needed between two to five days to sign the concurrence budget for 2013 through 2015, as well as 13 days for 2016.
“In the past few budgets, the governor’s office has been irrelevant regardless if that office was held by a Republican or Democrat,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth.
Regular and extra sessions extended the 2017 legislative calendar from January 2017 into February 2018, and the 2018 regular and extra sessions from mid-May to Dec. 27.
Sessions from 2001 to 2016 ended in a range from June 18 (in 2011) to Sept. 30 (in 2015).
Extra sessions in 2017 and 2018 were called by House speaker Tim Moore and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest to allow Republicans to override Cooper non-budget vetoes.