The rhetoric has intensified as the N.C. House in Raleigh prepares for an override vote on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget passed by the legislature.

House Republican leadership postponed potential votes Monday night and Tuesday as they sought to convince at least seven eastern Democratic representatives to support the override.

“We want everybody to have time to think about where they are on this vote,” House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters after the Monday-night session. “We’re going to wait until the time is right.”

Meanwhile, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, acknowledged Monday that GOP leadership has engaged in attempts to lure Democratic override votes through special funding worth a combined tens of millions of dollars for projects in those legislators’ districts.

Berger said in a statement that “if a veto override fails, we’ll agree to start with a blank slate: they’re all off the table.”

“If legislators choose to block priorities for their own districts because of loyalty to the governor, they can explain why to their constituents,” he said.

Berger continues to ramp up his criticism of Cooper’s Medicaid-expansion agenda that played a primary role in his budget veto.

Berger’s claims that Medicaid expansion would put “able-bodied” recipients in front of disabled individuals for funding has been disputed by advocacy and health-care groups.

“If a veto override fails, we’ll negotiate with Gov. Cooper when he stops holding the entire budget hostage,” Berger said.

On Tuesday, Cooper released an updated version of his budget priorities ; it’s led by Medicaid expansion.

“We’ve seen it in other states, and in addition, most of the people we’re talking about, the vast majority of people are already working, but those are items that can be discussed as we continue to negotiate this budget,” Cooper said in an accompanying news conference.

Cooper cited the resurfacing Monday of House Bill 655 that would bring a form of Medicaid expansion featuring a controversial work requirement.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, passed its only House committee step Tuesday by a 25-6 vote. It has been fast-tracked to the House floor.

Analysts say it is likely, if not probable, that if HB655 clears the House that it would not be taken up in the Senate.

“Clearly, if they’re discussing (Medicaid legislation), they realize that it’s an important part of this process,” Cooper said. “But it has to go through two chambers in order to pass, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Gerrick Brenner, the executive director of left-leaning Progress NC Action, said Berger “looks more and more lonely as he continues to throw tantrums in order to block a Medicaid expansion proposal which even his own party supports.”

Teacher pay

Berger claims that Cooper’s support for Medicaid expansion is preventing state employee and public-school teachers’ raises from going into effect, as well as potentially affecting the rollout of a state Medicaid managed-care initiative that is scheduled to begin Nov. 1 in the Triad and Triangle, and in February for rest of the state.

An amendment to Senate Bill 212 would delay implementation to at least March 1 if the state budget is not signed into law by July 15. The bill cleared the House Rules and Operations Committee on Monday and is on the House floor agenda for today. The Senate would have to concur with bill changes.

Cooper’s proposal

Cooper said his proposal would provide an average 8.5% pay increase for teachers, down from his initial proposal of 9.1%, but above the budget compromise of 3.8%.

Cooper’s proposal would provide a 5% pay raise for state employees, along with 5% for noncertified school personnel, 5% for UNC system employees and 4% for community college employees.

By comparison, under the budget conference spending play, 27% of state workers would receive the 5% raise, while noncertified school personnel would get a 2% raise, UNC system employees a 1% raise and community college employees a 2% raise.

“Compromise shouldn’t be a dirty word, and we need to work together to provide for North Carolina’s most pressing needs,” Cooper said.

“This budget gives us an opportunity to secure health insurance for half a million people and strengthen public education while still balancing the budget, cutting taxes for people and saving responsibly,” he said of his plan.

Eastern Democrats

Berger on Monday spoke to what he called “specific priorities that individual legislators requested as part of the negotiation process.”

Some Democratic legislators from Eastern North Carolina voted for the budget, in part because of pledges that it would finance such projects as a combined $28 million over two years toward construction of a $215 million medical school at East Carolina University; $2.5 million for a crime laboratory at Elizabeth City State University; $15.1 million over two years for a Civil War & Reconstruction History Center; and $1.5 million for a Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

State Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland, expressed concerns that projects in his district “could be gone” if Cooper’s veto is sustained and new budget negotiations commence.

“Bottom line, I don’t like the budget,” Floyd said, citing his desire for higher pay for state employee and Medicaid expansion.

“But when you look at over $100 million collected in projects — needed projects — sometimes you just got to look at it from a different perspective,” he said.

Patrick McHugh, a policy analyst with the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh, said that “clearly budget writers are resorting to some old political tricks to get around the fact that their spending plan fails to close the Medicaid coverage gap and gives even more tax breaks to big corporations that don’t need them.”

Brenner, the Progress NC director, said that “if North Carolina is ever going to join the 36 other states which have successfully expanded Medicaid, we need to stop taking Phil Berger’s petulant temper tantrums seriously.”

Cooper’s proposal

Cooper said his proposal “accepts tax cuts for people by raising the standard deduction on income tax as included in the Republican conference budget, but eliminate additional tax cuts for corporations.”

Cooper said he and Democratic leaders “agree to accept many parts of the Republican conference budget” that include special projects for some Democratic legislators in the eastern part of the state.

Those include money for all local projects proposed in the Republican conference budget; $28 million over two years toward construction of the ECU medical school; $110 million in hurricane relief; money for historically black colleges and universities, including capital spending and NC A&T doctoral program; and $700 million put into the state’s “rainy day” fund over the next two years.

“Making sure our state’s residents have access to quality health care and a strong educational system is vital, and this proposal moves North Carolina in the right direction,” Cooper said. “The time is now to settle our differences and move forward.”

Berger responded to Cooper’s proposal by saying that if a veto override fails, “we have a spending plan based on last year’s appropriations.”

“At that point, the governor can explain to voters why he blocked $24 billion over one policy disagreement,” Berger said.

“We can discuss a budget once he’s dropped his ultimatum.”

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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