Cooper holding millions hostage on budget deadlock

Today marks one month since July 1, which is the beginning of the 2019-20 fiscal year for North Carolina’s state government and also the day a new budget is supposed to take effect.

Yet it hasn’t, and there is little to indicate when it might, or if it ever will in its current state.

The $24 billion budget, which is very generous to Robeson County and especially The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, has been left to marinate. It was approved rather easily by the Republicans, who control both the Senate and the House, but still lacks Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature.

Cooper instead vetoed the budget, and House Speaker Tim Moore has been trying to find seven Democrats to join Republicans in that chamber for an override. The Senate has plenty of override votes.

Moore is unlikely to call for such a vote until he is convinced he has enough votes for an override, so there is no way to know when, or if, the vote will come.

Cooper has been plain so far, saying he would not sign the budget until it expands Medicaid, which he says would provide health insurance for as many as 600,000 additional North Carolinians who earn too much to qualify under existing rules and too little to afford their own private insurance.

The number is likely much less than that, but expansion, which we support, would — according to a nonpartisan study that we trust — benefit Robeson County in that it would insure almost 14,000 more people, create more than 600 jobs, boost the stock of Southeastern Health, and provide as much as a $100 million economic boost over the next three years.

But you don’t hear folks at the coffee shop grumbling about the lack of Medicaid expansion. Nor will you.

If you haven’t already, you might begin hearing some rumblings from teachers and state employees who are being denied a raise because of the budget impasse. While the raises will likely be retroactive should the budget eventually take effect, the same amount of money holds more value now than tomorrow.

The state government, of course, is operating and will continue to do so under continuing resolutions that essentially keep spending the same as it was during the fiscal year that just ended. The General Assembly, on an as-needed basis, also can approve expenditures for urgent matters.

All of this weakens Cooper’s position, and begs the question: What is the point?

The Republicans in recent weeks have shown signs of softening on Medicaid expansion, although Senate Leader Phil Berger still stands hard in opposition.

House Republicans floated the idea of Medicaid with a work requirement and a premium, and even Berger has said he was amenable to calling legislators back to Raleigh after the budget takes effect for a session solely on Medicaid and health insurance options. While critics would argue that the gesture is empty, such a session would spotlight Medicaid and allow Cooper and fellow Democrats to fully make their case, which we believe would work to their advantage.

So far, Cooper hasn’t budged and appears willing to die on this hill. Fair enough, we suppose, but he won’t be dying on it alone. There are millions of North Carolinians who would benefit from the Republican budget, but can’t until it takes effect.