House Democrats effectively shut the door on a veto override, and with it a new budget agreement for the fiscal year, yesterday. All but four of them signed a commitment letter to uphold Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. Unless three more decommit or are not present, Republicans will be short of the three-fifths majority they need.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said in his tweet of the letter, “It’s time to negotiate.” The problem is Gov. Roy Cooper’s key item is non-negotiable. Either the state expands Medicaid or it does not. Cooper and DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen are unlikely to enforce work requirements even if the federal government approved a waiver for North Carolina. The legislature, meanwhile, continues address costs and access to health insurance and care.
Diverting money from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund (SCIF) to expand government programs and taking on debt to make up the difference are also non-negotiable. At a June 19 meeting with legislative budget leaders, “The Governor…made clear that items such as corporate tax cuts, school vouchers and the SCIF took important budget availability away from priorities like education and health care.” The questions are not how much to ignore the law or how much money to borrow, but whether to ignore the law and take on unnecessary debt.
The current budget, which carries on, with minor adjustments, the budget in effect through June 30, provides more fiscal certainty for the future and leaves open the possibility of an actual deal in 2020. Politicians and partisans can debate who is to blame for the changes that are not funded. Given Cooper’s previous attempt at compromise and his fundamental commitment to expand debt and Medicaid, there is little room to negotiate or compromise.