MOUNT OLIVE — N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore thinks he has the votes necessary to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state’s $24 billion budget.
That would get $36.4 million in grants flowing to Wayne County, including $5.5 million to Mount Olive for a critical wastewater treatment plant improvement project.
Moore and District 21 Rep. Raymond Smith of Goldsboro attended an impromptu meeting Thursday morning with town and county officials and business leaders at the behest of Mayor Joe Scott.
“There is common ground all around us,” Smith said. “I can tell you I have had conversations with the governor and the governor’s office, and in my conversations with the governor and the governor’s office there has been no intent from our side to remove anything that is in the budget in Wayne County. There is no intent to take anything out of the budget already in the budget, so that is not an issue.
“I feel confident what you have in this budget will remain, but the question is, will we reach a budget agreement or will we have a budget impasse? I have the highest level of confidence we will be able to keep these items in the budget, if we can reach an agreement.”
However, if the override fails and the General Assembly and governor can’t reach agreement, the state will fall back on a continuing resolution in which all of the recurring expenses of the previous year continue, Moore said.
“But the non-recurring, like the money you are talking about, that just doesn’t happen because it has to be specifically appropriated through non-recurring appropriations,” Moore said.
Without the wastewater treatment plant project, the town’s economic development is stuck, Town Manager Charles Brown said.
“We can’t grow,” Brown said. “We can’t serve the people who we need to serve unless we can get this project done. I know it is in the budget, $5.5 million, which is what we scoped it out to be. It’s a huge, vital issue for the town of Mount Olive and the whole surrounding area.”
Mount Olive lost a 70-unit affordable housing project because of a state-imposed moratorium on adding more sewer connections, Scott said.
“This doesn’t just affect Mount Olive,” Brown said. “Obviously it affects the University of Mount Olive, Mt. Olive Pickle, Southern Bank and any other number of businesses here in town.
“It also affects the town of Calypso. Without our wastewater treatment plant, Calypso would have no means to treat their wastewater. Case Farms, which has a pretty sizable operation south of town between here and Calypso, we handle their wastewater.”
The budget was designed to help rural areas, Moore said.
“I have traveled around the state a lot to see different projects, particularly those that we funded in the budget that I wasn’t directly familiar with,” Moore said. “This is one that I wanted to come see because I found out how important it is to this community.”
Moore heard from Bill Bryan, Mt. Olive Pickle Co. executive chairman, and University of Mount Olive President David Poole as to how the project will affect their growth potential.
Mt. Olive Pickle Co. operates its own treatment plant at its production site, but it is at capacity and cannot expand any more, Bryan said.
“When we were looking at our growth pattern, we looked at other areas, but we decided we wanted to continue to grow here in the Mount Olive area,” he said. “So we went out to where our distribution center is, which is about a mile north of our production facility, and have started to add additional production capacity there.
“We did that in consultation with the town and the fact that they could take on the wastewater load from us.”
Mt. Olive has grown over the past three years, investing about $38 million in its facilities, and will invest another $13 million this year, Bryan said. Sales and employment have grown as well, he said.
“But our ability to continue to grow does depend on having the infrastructure,” he said. “We are continuing to try and grow.”
Poole said the wastewater treatment project is critical to the university’s continued growth.
“But for us why it is so critical is literally on Tuesday we are having a second meeting on a campus master plan for some pretty significant expansion here at Mount Olive,” Poole said. “We are talking about multiple new buildings. We are talking about some faculty and staff housing eventually that we are going to be doing.”
That will put a strain on the infrastructure, he said.
The sewer project plays a significant role in decisions being made, Poole said.
Southern Bank and Trust Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Grey Morgan talked about the bank’s founding and its growth in Mount Olive where its headquarters are located as well as two branches.
The bank serves Mount Olive, southern Wayne and northern Duplin counties, he said.
“As you can see they all play a vital role in the growth of our town,” Scott said. “I know that politics enter into a lot of things that happen. I know that we have a budget that was vetoed. I know that we are looking at overriding. I hope that we can put our politics aside and do what is right for the people of Wayne County.”
Medicaid expansion continues to be the sticking point between the legislature and governor, and members like Smith are sort of caught in the crossfire between the General Assembly and governor on the veto, Moore said.
Smith said he is undecided on how he will vote on Monday.
“Medicaid expansion, as you well know, is a major issue for the governor, but keep in mind, the governor is a separate branch of government,” Smith said. “That’s his issue, but we in the legislature on the Democratic side, we do have other issues beyond Medicaid expansion.”
“People worry about how do we know that Medicaid is going to be dealt with?” Moore said. “Well, if I put it on the calendar, and we just vote on it this week or next week, it’s there. I think anybody who may disagree with me will at least say I always tell them the truth. I believe in being open and transparent about it.
“We are going to bring it up. I want to get the Medicaid thing right on the table because that has been the thing the governor had talked about.”
Moore said he has been in meetings with Cooper and state Senate President Phil Berger and asked the governor what he would do if his budget was passed exactly as presented, but not include Medicaid expansion.
Cooper said he would not sign it, Moore said.
“My point is Medicaid expansion can be a separate issue from the budget, from a $24 billion budget that gets funds out to the communities,” Moore said. “They can be separate. We put language in this budget that says we will come back in special session to deal with the issue of Medicaid expansion.”
Also, the Carolina Cares bill is a type of Medicaid expansion that has bipartisan sponsorships, but basically adds a work requirement, Moore said.
Cooper’s proposal is a blanket expansion, he said.
Moore said his philosophy is that if a person is able-bodied and able to work, that person should not get the program if that person is choosing not to work.
“So just to put my money where my mouth is, if we proceed with this override vote on Monday, Carolina Cares will be on the calendar for the House on Monday,” Moore said. “You can vote on Medicaid expansion right there. It’s going to pass. I have no question it is going to pass.
“But what it does, it puts a work requirement in because there is a doughnut hole of people working one, two, three jobs trying to get by. Now all of a sudden they have to go out and buy health insurance that’s costing them $1,000 or $2,000 a month, and that ain’t right.”
The bill will step in and allow them coverage so they can do it, he said.
“That is the best, fairest compromise I know to do,” Moore said. “So we can have a budget that takes care of the priorities that we have, that have been agreed upon, negotiated and put in and passed both chambers ... bipartisan in both chambers.
“I actually support that bill. It is a good bill. It fixes what I call the doughnut hole for the group of people, they do work and earn something, but they don’t earn enough to be able to afford insurance or it takes up too much of their income.”
The budget’s priority is to help those who need help the most, whether it is individuals or areas and projects like Mount Olive’s wastewater treatment plant, and is a good use of money, Moore said.
People will call the state putting money into the plant a pork project, Moore said.
“I don’t see it as a pork project,” he said. “I mean it is going into something for the good of this community. If they can’t process more wastewater, they can’t grow at the pickle plant. The university is limited, they can’t put in housing.
“As a government, if we are not investing in capital infrastructure, what are we doing? People expect to have roads, water and sewer. I mean that is basic. If you look at the grants around the state, most of them are that kind of thing. I can defend every dime we spent in front of anybody on these. I think they are good projects. I think it is good money spent.”