RALEIGH — As the N.C.’s Republican legislative leaders and Democratic governor quibble over a biennium budget that sits in limbo, the potential exists for the entire process to start over and for Watauga-based projects to be left out, according to Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock).
The 2019-21 N.C. budget, packaged in House Bill 966, was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper on June 28. A vote on the veto override in the N.C. House was scheduled on July 8, but did not take place.
A veto override would require 60 percent of voting members to pass in both chambers. However, the Republican-led budget faces an obstacle as they only have a 65-55 edge in the N.C. House and a 29-21 edge in the N.C. Senate, both short of the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass the budget without several Democrat votes.
Currently in HB966 are $300,000 in funding for the Appalachian Theatre, $100,000 to the town of Blowing Rock for streetscape work, $11,000 for the town of West Jefferson for signage along with the development of the Watauga River Paddle trail and the removal of Ward’s Mill Dam on the Watauga River.
Those projects, along with funding for the renovation of Wey Hall at Appalachian State University, are in the governor’s proposed budget he released on July 9, according to Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone).
However, Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Dunn) has stated that the legislature would start with a “blank slate” if a veto overrride fails. Ballard said on July 11 that would mean any special funding for certain projects are at risk, including the Appalachian Theatre.
“Naturally, I will fight to keep all the local projects in the final budget, as they are tremendously important to our region,” Ballard said. “But the funding for raises for state employees and teachers, bonuses for veteran teachers, the raising of the standard deduction, school construction and removing 1,000 patients from the state’s Intellectual/Development Disability Medicaid program waitlist are all on hold while the governor continues to hold the entire budget hostage over one policy disagreement.”
That “one policy disagreement” is closing the Medicaid coverage gap, which Cooper and Russell have been proponents of, calling it a top policy item in 2019 numerous times. Cooper’s July 9 budget proposal includes Medicaid coverage gap funding. The Republican-crafted budget that Cooper vetoed contained no Medicaid expansion funding.
“Expansion would benefit Ashe and Watauga counties with $64 million in economic growth over two years starting in 2020,” Russell stated on July 10. “This offer from Gov. Cooper is an investment in our people and our future. We must devote resources to education, health care and protecting the environment.”
Ballard said the budget compromise by N.C. Senate and House leaders had a chance for Medicaid expansion later in the year.
“The conference budget sent to the governor included a provision to call a special session in the fall to consider access to health care across North Carolina, including issues pertaining to health insurance, association health plans, Medicaid and Medicaid expansion,’ Ballard stated. “The governor has chosen to veto the budget and forego the proposed special session.”
Ballard says that Cooper had a chance to negotiate in June and failed to do so because of Medicaid.
“Legislative leaders attempted to negotiate with the governor on what he said were his major priorities,” Ballard said. “They provided him with an opening offer last month, but he wouldn’t provide a counter offer, deciding instead to veto the budget over a single policy disagreement.
“We hope that the (N.C.) House will override the governor’s veto,” Ballard stated.
Russell said there’s no good reason why all parties can’t come together.
“What we all want is a prosperous and secure North Carolina where our children receive the best education, our residents are healthy, and our environment is protected,” Russell said.