Graham likes budget ‘on the table’

By: T.C. Hunter - Managing editor
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RALEIGH — As the budget impasse continues in the state House, a local Democrat is ready for the stalemate to be broken.

Rep. Charles Graham, whose District 47 covers Robeson County, did not come out and say Wednesday that he would vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto but did say he would support the budget if House leaders can get the seven Democratic votes needed for an override. He said he is optimistic that the budget will be approved.

“I would love to see us move forward and get the budget passed,” said Graham.

No action was taken Wednesday in the House on Cooper’s veto of the two-year budget approved by the General Assembly on June 27 that would have spent $24 billion in the fiscal year that started July 1. The budget tug-of-war between leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor puts on hold $2.75 million in immediate state funding for projects in Robeson County.

“I’m in favor of the bill that is on the table,” Graham said.

The House members did approve on a 118-0 vote a stopgap spending plan that keeps the state funded until a budget compromise is reached. The legislation, House Bill 111, was sent to the Senate.

“We did pass out a supplemental appropriations bill to keep our state functioning and to meet our statutory obligations while we are in this budget crisis, or impasse, so-to-speak,” Graham said.

The stopgap plan keeps the state funded at the previous budget’s spending levels. It does not include the pay raises, new hurricane relief money and other new spending that were in the vetoed budget.

The Republicans in the House need seven Democrats to vote in favor of overriding Cooper’s veto. If the House can get those votes, the Senate would then vote, and an override is likely as the Republicans have a veto-proof majority in that chamber.

“There are 166 million reasons why I support the budget,” Graham said.

Graham was speaking of the money in the budget earmarked for the College of Health Sciences at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The spending bill sets up $91 million in State Capital and Infrastructure Fund money for UNCP. The university was in line to receive $6.5 million for the college in fiscal year 2019-2o and $20 million in 2020-21, and $1 million a year in recurring funding.

The establishment of the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund was one reason Cooper gave for vetoing the bill. He favors using bonds to raise money for school construction.

The State Capital and Infrastructure Fund is vulnerable to legislative action in the future, said Ford Porter, a Cooper spokesman. Lawmakers could do away with the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund and leave construction projects that have been planned or started without money.

“I’ve been engaged with our leadership for that purpose,” Graham said of the UNCP money. “It’s a great opportunity, but that opportunity is on hold.”

UNCP Chancellor Robin Cummings provided The Robesonian with an op-ed expressing support for the budget, and County Manager Kellie Blue, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, is also lobbying for its passage.

Graham wants to see the money made available because it would enable UNCP to improve the lives of Robeson County residents, boost the local economy and would raise the stature of UNCP.

“It’s a win-win for Robeson County,” Graham said.

Graham said he is optimistic about a veto override in the House, but it is unknown when that might happen. Legislators left Raleigh on Wednesday.

“The speaker of the House will determine if and when we take up the bill to override the veto,” said Rep. Brenden Jones, whose District 46 covers part of Robeson County.

As for Cooper’s veto, the Republican lawmaker had harsh words.

“I am disappointed for the folks of our district who will be losing millions of dollars in funding that was secured in the budget,” Jones said. “In reality, the governor never sent a legitimate compromise.”

Multiple attempts at reaching a compromise or scheduling face-to-face talks have been made by GOP leaders and the Governor’s Office since Cooper issued his veto. Cooper has stood firm on his demands for Medicaid expansion, bigger pay raises for teachers, and fewer tax cuts for big business. Republican leaders offered compromise positions and asked Cooper to respond with counteroffers. General Assembly leaders say they never received counteroffers.

A compromise Medicaid expansion plan was approved by the House Health Committee on Tuesday. No action was taken Wednesday on the legislation.

Cooper says his expansion plan would make Medicaid health insurance available to between 500,000 and 600,000 North Carolina residents with no work requirements and no premiums. The Governor’s Office also says the expansion will not require a tax increase.

The plan approved by the House committee requires participants to work and pay up to 2% of their annual household income for coverage.

That, along with an estimated $2 billion from hospitals hoping to cut the volume of poor people who can’t pay, would cover the state’s share without costing taxpayers, Rep. Donny Lambeth, a Forsyth County Republican and former hospital executive, said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Cooper sent a letter to House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger stating he knew the lawmakers did not have the votes to override his veto. Cooper asked to meet Thursday with Moore and Berger, or at least speak with them over the telephone, in order to work toward a compromise budget.

The letter reads in part, “In the budget proposal sent to you yesterday, I proposed compromises on teacher pay, private school vouchers, bonds for school construction and tax cuts. I’m open to discussing the best way to close the health care coverage gap, but North Carolinians expect us to wrestle with this issue now, not ignore it.”

Berger and Moore’s staff responded by saying a productive conversation about a budget compromise needs to be “free from the governor’s ultimatum that no budget can move forward without Medicaid expansion.” Berger’s office said Berger is in Germany attending a gathering of Senate leaders from the states and will return this weekend.

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T.C. Hunter

Managing editor

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected] The Associated Press contributed to this report.