If Wayne County does not receive a nearly $37 million state budget allocation, it will be because Republicans have refused to compromise, state Rep. Raymond Smith said.
“(House Majority Leader) Rep. John Bell (a Republican) was not truthful when he stated that I do not support the local projects in this proposed budget,” said Smith, a Democrat. “What Rep. Bell did not mention is that in the governor’s compromise budget, that he (governor) puts in writing that he plans to leave ‘all’ local projects in his compromise budget.”
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the $24 billion budget, saying that it “prioritizes the wrong things. It values corporate tax breaks over classrooms, gimmicks over guaranteed school construction, and political ideology over people.”
Smith said he plans to support the veto so that legislators can negotiate a better budget.
An override vote has been on the House agenda since Monday, but as of Thursday no vote had been taken.
On Monday, Cooper and Democratic leaders offered up a compromise proposal that they say accepts many features of the Republican conference budget — including all local projects — but it differs by removing corporate tax cuts and instead investing that money toward a stronger teacher pay raise.
The Republican conference budget included an average teacher pay raise of 3.8 percent, and Cooper’s budget included an average teacher pay raise of 9.1 percent. The compromise proposal recommends an average 8.5 percent increase with a pay raise for every teacher.
It also calls on lawmakers to expand Medicaid health care coverage for 500,000 to 600,000 North Carolinians.
Bell has said there might not be a state budget if a compromise cannot be reached, which means Wayne County will not receive $36.4 million in grants for local projects, including $19 million for school construction and $5.5 for a sewer plant improvement project in Mount Olive.
Even without a formal budget, the state will continue to function.
About three years ago, the budget bill included a provision that if there was a budget stalemate, the state would continue operating under the current budget, Bell said.
Smith said his top three budget priorities are:
• Maintaining all $37 million in proposed earmarks for Wayne County that are established in the current budget, to include an increase in the governor’s budget from the current $19 million to $28 million for Wayne County Public Schools.
• Instead of only 27 percent of state employees receiving a 5 percent raise in the current budget, all employees and retirees receive a raise in the governor’s budget.
• Restore the $42 million proposed cut to the Department of Health and Human Services so that countless state employees will not have to lose their jobs, and vital services to children and the elderly do not have to be cut, especially since the state has a $700 million surplus.
“I urge the community to give the process of negotiating an opportunity to work,” Smith said. “I know that it has been years since this option was possible with a super-majority in the legislature.
“Now that you, the citizens, have voted to break the super-majority and allow for both sides to have equal input, I humbly ask for your patience and support, and that you give the process an opportunity to work.”
Notwithstanding the looming budget vote, the N.C. General Assembly has chosen to separate Medicaid expansion, N.C. Health Care for Working Families, HB 655, from the budget, Smith said.
This places the veto vote on the budget as a standalone issue, with the exception of HB 655 being contingent upon the passing of a budget, he said.
“I am extremely confident that Democrats are prepared to compromise on the Republican version of Medicaid expansion that has a work requirement and insurance premiums; even though it will be a tremendous hardship for people that only make $7.25 per hour,” Smith said.
“However, as previously stated, Medicaid expansion is a primary focus for the governor, but the issues with the budget are a primary concern of the Democratic Caucus.”
Smith said the issues include, but are not limited to:
• The budget provides millions in corporate tax giveaways while cutting $42 million from the Department of Health and Human Services, resulting in the loss of numerous jobs and services.
• The governor’s proposal provides raises for all state employees compared to the Republican proposal that does not provide all state employees with a 5 percent raise.
• The Republican budget provides nothing for state retirees, while the governor proposes a 2 percent increase.
“This budget does not provide adequate funding for our public schools, it proposes a pay-as-you-go plan (State Capital Infrastructure Fund) that only offers $19 million, and ignores a $28 million proposal from the governor guaranteed through a bond,” he said.
“There are numerous other problems with this budget that I sincerely believe that we can resolve with the opportunity to hold real budget negotiations.”