Another state House session came and went Wednesday without a vote on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the Republican state budget compromise.
The session was dominated by discussions of the N.C. Farm Act and various amendments to that bill.
House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told legislative online media outlet The Insider on Tuesday that he is willing to wait until December to initiate a veto override vote even though it appears he does not have enough support from House Democrats.
A total of 51 of 55 House Democrats have signed a bill sent to GOP legislative leadership saying they are committed to upholding Cooper’s veto.
“Plenty to keep us busy through December,” Moore said. “I don’t see us, at this point, leaving unless we have either overridden the veto or dealt with budget in other ways.”
Moore previously had indicated a willingness to stay in session into October.
It has been 26 consecutive House sessions without GOP Republican leadership addressing a potential veto override vote.
It’s also been 24 consecutive sessions without action on bipartisan Medicaid expansion legislation House Bill 655. Moore has said there will be no action on HB655 until the state budget is signed into law.
The next voting opportunity comes at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, which is Day 56 of the stalemate.
Republican legislative leadership attempted to apply renewed pressure on Cooper through its plan to take $663 million of the 2018-19 budget surplus and return it to taxpayers by late 2019 or early 2020.
The Taxpayer Refund Act, according to Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, would receive a refund in the amount they paid in state taxes, up to a maximum of $125 for an individual or $250 for a couple. They estimate about 5.1 million taxpayers could benefit.
Some left-leaning analysts have said the surplus comes in large part from the 2018-19 state budget underfunding several key categories, such as public school teacher raises, infrastructure and healthcare initiatives.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said that “the idea that this surplus should be spent on other priorities is just ridiculous.”
“There are already spending increases in just about every area, and Democrats are blocking them over a single policy disagreement.”
It’s estimated that it costs $42,000 a day for the General Assembly to operate. By the time Thursday’s session is held, it will have cost $1.13 million in taxpayer money.
The clock on the additional expenses began when GOP House leadership first put a veto-override vote on the calendar for the July 8 session.
Republicans need at least seven Democratic House members and at least one Democratic senator to vote for a veto override for it to pass on a three-fifths majority.
For the state budget override, the House voted in favor 64-49, while the Senate voted 33-15.
That means most Democrats have to attend each floor session regardless if there is an intent to conduct a veto override vote.
“Legislators who vote for a bill on its initial passage are not guaranteed to vote the same way on a veto override,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.
“Especially if the governor takes a strong stance in a veto message and urges members of his party to support his position, thereby raises the prominence of the issue for his party’s legislators and makes it more difficult for party members to oppose him.”
Cooper said during a Tuesday roundtable with business leaders that GOP legislative leaders continue to refuse to make a counteroffer to his budget compromise proposal released July 9.
“If you’re going to start a negotiation and the other side says, ‘I won’t talk to you until you take your No. 1 issue off the table and out of the equation,’ what kind of negotiation is that?” Cooper was quoted by The Insider as saying.
“If they don’t want Medicaid expansion in their counteroffer, don’t put Medicaid expansion in your counteroffer. But they have done nothing.”
Cooper has cited not only the lack of Medicaid expansion as a primary reason for his June 28 veto, but there’s not enough money in the GOP state budget dedicated to public education spending, infrastructure and environmental issues.
Cooper’s compromise proposal included an average 8.5% raise for public-school teachers. The Republican budget offers a 3.8% raise.
Berger said that “legislators continue to be willing to negotiate with Governor Cooper about the budget, but he maintains his refusal to sign any negotiated budget into law unless the legislature first passes Medicaid expansion.”
“Instead of sitting on a pile of cash, legislators intend to return this money back to the people who earned it.”