It has cost more than $1 million in taxpayer money to keep the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh open for business after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the Republican state budget plan passed by both chambers.
Whether taxpayers are getting their money’s worth for the $1,008,000 spent through Thursday to allow for 24 House sessions in hope of a vote on overriding the governor’s veto is very much in the eye of the beholder.
It’s estimated that it costs $42,000 a day for the legislature to operate. The typical goal is for the General Assembly to finish its major business by the Fourth of July holiday.
Republican House leadership first put a veto-override vote on the calendar for the July 8 session.
Since the July 1 start of a new fiscal year, about 90% of state operations have continued to run, based on their 2018-19 budgets.
As the two sides remain entrenched, analysts say it could now take months for a compromise to be reached. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said on Aug. 1 that he was willing to wait until October to secure enough Democratic votes to override Cooper’s veto, according to a report by The Daily Reflector newspaper in Greenville.
Republicans need at least seven Democratic House members and at least one Democratic senator to vote for a veto override for it to pass.
Except for technical inquiries from House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, the House GOP leadership has not taken up veto-override or Medicaid-expansion legislation during any of the 24 sessions.
That’s even though the veto has been on the agenda for all 24 sessions and House Bill 655, which would expand Medicaid health coverage, something Cooper wants, for 22 consecutive sessions.
This week, the House held four sessions, with a combined time of less than an hour. There was one bill vote, representing final approval given Monday to House changes on clearinghouse health-care legislation, Senate Bill 361.
On Thursday, three minutes were spent in a declared non-voting session that technically could have held a vote on the veto override.
Moore told House members in an email Wednesday that “for your planning purposes, there will be no 2nd or 3rd reading of recorded votes tomorrow.”
However, because the veto override does not require a second or third reading, House Democrats had to be present in case a vote is brought up.
Cooper’s office issued a statement Wednesday asking, “When will (Republicans) stop playing games with the calendar?
“By keeping the legislature in session for little reason other than to continue their override games, Republican leaders are wasting taxpayer money instead of coming to the table to negotiate with Governor Cooper and Democrats,” the statement read.
The next opportunity for action on the veto override or expanding Medicaid under HB655 is the 7 p.m. Monday session, which would be Day 53 since Cooper’s veto on June 28.
Moore has said there would be no action on HB655 until the budget becomes law.
The typical post-July 1 ramping down of the legislative calendar has continued during the stalemate.
Since Aug. 1, the House has dealt with 17 bills in committee. The Senate has worked on four bills in committee.
There is only one Senate committee meeting, and none in the House, posted for next week as of Thursday’s legislative calendar.
Cooper has cited the lack of Medicaid expansion as a primary reason for his veto, and said there’s not enough money in the budget dedicated to public education spending — including larger raises for public-school teachers than offered by the GOP — infrastructure and environmental issues.
Moore spokesman Joseph Kyzer said Monday that “the speaker will hold the veto override when the votes are secured, and we are steadfastly committed to passing the $24 billion state budget separately from any consideration of Medicaid expansion.”
Rob Schofield, a policy analyst with left-leaning N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh, said Thursday that “Moore’s trickery and deceptions are outrageous and unworthy of the chief lawmaking assembly for our state.”
“The 2019 session needs to come to an end. Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger have lost the veto override battle. They need to stop acting like immature college frat boys and sit down with Gov. Cooper and Democratic leaders to negotiate a final agreement,” Schofield said.