The pressure to resolve the 2019-20 state budget dispute appears to still weigh more on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper than Republican legislative leaders, according to several analysts.
As has been the pattern for 12 consecutive sessions, Republican leadership in the state House on Monday night did not address the veto override vote or the bipartisan Medicaid expansion legislation House Bill 655.
The next opportunity will come at 3:15 p.m. today, which would represent Day 33 of the stalemate.
Cooper vetoed the bill June 28, citing the lack of Medicaid expansion as a primary reason, along with not enough funds in the Republican budget compromise dedicated to public education spending, infrastructure and environment issues.
Republicans need at least seven Democratic House members and at least one Democratic senator to vote for a veto override.
As the two sides remain entrenched in their stances, analysts say it could take weeks, if not months, for a compromise to be reached.
House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, told reporters after the July 8 session — the first session to skip a vote — that “we’re going to wait until the time is right.”
He has said there will not be a vote on HB655 until the state budget veto override is approved.
“The governor faces a choice at this point,” said John Dinan, political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.
“If a key priority is to allow the governor not to show weakness, then the governor’s best option may be to free up a few Democratic house members to approve the veto override and pass the budget as it stands, complete with some beneficial projects for these legislators’ districts.
“Allowing a few Democratic house members to vote for the veto override would allow responsibility for the failure of Medicaid expansion to be seen as falling on their shoulders, and the governor could maintain that he never gave up the Medicaid fight,” Dinan said.
Both sides have tried to put the onus on the other for the impasse that’s delaying, among several things, raises for state employees and public teachers, and $218 million in necessary start-up funding for the state Medicaid transformation initiative set to begin Nov. 1 in the Triad.
GOP leaders, led by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockigham, argue that Cooper has hijacked the budget with his insistence the legislation include some form of Medicaid expansion.
"The governor will not sign any budget unless Medicaid expansion is first passed into law, so it’s difficult to take him seriously when he says he wants to negotiate the budget," Berger said July 30.
Meanwhile, Cooper and Democratic legislative leaders stress that if House GOP leadership had the votes to override the veto, they would have done so by now.
They say that by stalling on taking a veto-override vote and not beginning earnest budget negotiations with Medicaid expansion included, GOP House leaders are the ones responsible for the delay in pay raises.
According to Cooper’s office Monday, there has been no public Republican legislative leadership counteroffer to Cooper’s counterproposal outside of public-relations statements.
Cooper’s priorities, according to Dinan, could shift to gaining concessions from GOP legislative leaders in the form of higher teacher salaries, more borrowing for school construction, and perhaps a different approach to tax reduction.
If that’s the case, Dinan said, “then the governor’s best option is to take Medicaid expansion off the table at this point and negotiate a deal” on those issues.
“The prospects of the Senate passing Medicaid expansion, in any form, as part of the budget are dim to non-existent, and there is virtually no meaningful compromises that would satisfy the Senate and the governor.
“It will be difficult at this point for the governor to make such a pivot, in light of his intense focus to this point on Medicaid expansion, but it may be necessary to do so before serious negotiations begin.”
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst for Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said the Republican-controlled legislature likely has public support considering it has approved a state budget with teacher pay raises and special funding for projects in the communities of key Democratic legislators in eastern N.C.
“If these items do not move forward, will people blame legislative Republicans for refusing to bend to the governor’s will?” Kokai asked.
“Will they blame the governor for continuing to place a higher priority on Medicaid expansion than the rest of the budget? Will they blame legislative Democrats who refuse to buck the governor? How about the Democrats whose districts stand to gain tangible benefits from the budget?”
“Until one of these groups feels political heat, I don’t see either side backing down from its position,” Kokai said.
Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said the impasse may not be resolved until the state’s coveted AAA bond rating comes into play.
“Since the state continues to operate under the old budget, pressure will likely only start to be felt when school starts and school districts find themselves squeezed as they will not have the (additional) resources they need to fully operate given the large contribution the state makes to their districts,” Madjd-Sadjadi said.
“Even still, if we look at how budget drama has played out in other states, this may not be enough to cause major change. In many cases, this has caused irreparable harm to state credit ratings.
“If there is one thing most North Carolina politicians agree upon, it is that the state vaunted AAA bond rating needs to be upheld, so we might need a rating agency to threaten that for us to see both sides return to the table in earnest.”