The stakes have been raised in the state budget waiting game between House Republican leadership and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, and House Minority leader, sent a letter Wednesday containing 51 of 55 Democratic signatures that confirms their collective support to maintain Cooper’s June 28 veto of the GOP budget compromise.
Jackson’s letter, which he tweeted late Wednesday, tries to confirm what Jackson and Cooper have been saying since the veto was issued — that “the votes are not there to override.”
The letter was addressed to House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. They have said they will not negotiate a budget compromise until Medicaid expansion is removed as a requirement by Cooper.
Republicans need at least seven Democratic House members and at least one Democratic senator to vote for a veto override. That means most House Democrats have to be present for any potential session vote.
Meanwhile, for the 19th consecutive session, House GOP leadership opted Thursday not to take a veto override vote.
Bipartisan Medicaid expansion legislation House Bill 655 was not heard as well, maintaining the commitment made by Moore that there would be no action on that legislation until the budget becomes law.
The next opportunity for a vote on both bills will be 7 p.m. Monday when the budget stalemate reaches Day 47.
The House will hold a non-voting session Friday.
“Staying in session for weeks for Democrats to miss votes because of illness or family or work obligations is a waste of taxpayer money (at $42,000 per session) and disrespectful to the voters who elected Governor Cooper and this more-balanced General Assembly,” Jackson wrote.
Cooper has cited the lack of Medicaid expansion as a primary reason for his veto, along with not enough funds in the GOP budget compromise dedicated to public education spending, infrastructure and environment issues.
Forsyth Democratic Reps. Derwin Montgomery and Evelyn Terry signed the letter, but Guilford Rep. Cecil Brockman did not.
Brockman is one of three House Democrats who voted for the budget compromise June 26. That vote was 66-51.
Willing to compromise
Brockman said Friday he was not informed by the Democratic caucus of the letter until it was sent. He said the caucus leadership apologized for the oversight.
"There are not the votes for the override, and that's with or without my signature on the letter," Brockman said. "I'm hesitant to sign the letter because I haven't had input into the letter."
Brockman said he is being open-minded on the budget dispute, as well as attempting to secure more than $3 million in funding in the GOP budget for 17 special projects in the High Point area. He has been the target of advocacy groups using billboards to pressure him to uphold the veto.
"It's clear the one sticking point is Medicaid expansion," Brockman said. "It appears Republican leadership is willing to discuss every other item in the budget, including moving to positions similar to the governor's budget proposal.
"It makes all kinds of sense to expand Medicaid, but you have a Senate Republican leadership adamantly against it."
Brockman said that "there is a need for both sides to feel enough pressure to make a deal."
"My position is that I want to see compromise and want to be at the table to help drive that compromise, rather than all-or-nothing strategy because sometimes you do end up with nothing."
"We're not doing right by the people of North Carolina by not reaching a compromise on the budget even though compromise, for some people, is a dirty word."
Accusations of stalling
House Democrats have said that by GOP House leadership stalling on taking a veto-override vote and not beginning earnest budget negotiations with Medicaid expansion included, they are the ones responsible for the delay in pay raises.
Senate GOP leadership has indicated HB655 is a non-starter in their chamber even though they have offered to hold a special session on health care once the budget becomes law.
Analysts say there is a good likelihood that such a special session would focus on GOP health care priorities, such as limiting or ending the state’s certificate-of-need laws
Jackson and Cooper have called out GOP legislative leadership for their lack of response to Cooper’s budget compromise submitted July 9 that includes a higher raise for state employees and public school teachers than in the GOP budget, and funding for most special projects being used by GOP leadership to entice House Democrats to vote for a veto override.
“The only way to resolve the state budget impasse is to negotiate a compromise,” Jackson said in the letter.
He said Moore’s comment during a recent appearance in Greenville that he is willing to wait to October for a veto override vote “will not work” and will unnecessarily delay state employees receiving raises.
There’s also $218 million in necessary start-up funding for the state Medicaid transformation initiative set to begin Nov. 1 in the Triad.
Berger spokesman Bill D’Elia said in a statement Thursday that “it’s sad that so many legislators are allowing Governor Cooper to strong-arm them into choosing party loyalty over their constituents and use them as a political tool to block a $24 billion budget over a single policy ultimatum.”
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst for Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said Jackson’s letter is an attempt at defusing House Republican leaders’ efforts to round up enough Democratic votes to override the budget veto.
“They have offered no indication of when — or even if — they would consider ending that effort, “Kokai said.
Kokai said the message to House Democrats wavering on supporting the budget veto “is clear: ‘Do you really want to pay the political price for a gambit that’s going to fail?’”
“Meanwhile, I’m not sure ... Moore and his colleagues will be convinced. They might see Jackson’s letter as a sign of desperation, especially if they see names on his list of Democrats who have indicated privately that they might be willing to vote for the override.”
Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said GOP leadership could offer enticements in the budget, such as a minimum wage increase, “but I do not see them budging on Medicaid expansion at this time.”
“The four Democrats who failed to sign the letter may be the worst off. Republicans will now be much less likely to try to peel off Democratic votes, and so their priorities will not likely find themselves in the new budget.”
Both Berger and Moore have said there would be a clean slate if they choose to hold budget negotiations with Cooper and Democratic legislative leaders.
“That could make them politically vulnerable since while one can certainly defend the budget if enough was being sent to your constituents, it becomes much harder to do so when you have nothing,” Madjd-Sadjadi said.
The most likely way of settling the budget dispute is for Cooper to agree to forgo Medicaid expansion in exchange for higher teacher pay raises, school construction funding and halting the next corporate tax-rate cut, said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University who is a national expert on state legislatures.
“To the extent that chances of a veto override become less likely, and these prospects have always been on the more unlikely than likely side, then we’re in a situation of basically waiting for the governor to take Medicaid expansion off the table,” Dinan said.
“It will be difficult for the governor to publicly take this step after taking such a strong stand on Medicaid expansion up to this point.”