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The day begins with back-to-back press conferences, starting with Senate leader Phil Berger at 10 a.m., followed by Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue at 11 a.m. Both are expected to lay out their respective cases before a series of override votes during a session expected to start at noon.
In addition to the budget bill, the Senate will also take up two other bills vetoed last year by Gov. Roy Cooper: a multisection regulatory reform bill and a teacher pay plan that Cooper said fell short.
The vetoed budget
The legislature adjourned in November with several key parts of the state budget still in limbo.
Teacher and university employee pay raises and additional funding planned for the departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services are among the spending initiatives stalled during a six-month impasse that began in late June, when Cooper vetoed the legislature’s spending plan.
The budget passed both chambers but not by enough votes in the House to override a veto. The budget passed the Senate with four Democrats voting with the Republican majority. An override vote with all members present would require only one Democratic senator to be successful.
The House did override the budget veto on the morning of Sept. 11 after a surprise vote was called with fewer than a dozen Democrats in the room.
Democrats called foul, saying GOP leaders had broken a promise not to hold a vote in the morning session. House leaders argued at the time that the vote was legitimate because they had not issued a formal announcement that there would not be a vote.
The acrimony surrounding the incident hardened the resolve of Democrats in the Senate, and even those who had voted for the budget said they would not vote for an override.
Berger has said the Senate has the option to bring the budget override up for a vote at any time but so far has not done so. Unlike the House, Senate rules require 24-hour notice for an override vote.
Berger, citing Cooper’s requirement for Medicaid expansion, has pushed for a deal with Senate Democrats that would garner enough votes for an override.
“We clearly know that Gov. Cooper refuses to consider a budget without inclusion of Medicaid expansion,” Berger said in mid-December.
“Faced with that reality, the only pathway that exists to provide teachers with a pay raise is for the bipartisan budget to be enacted through a veto override.
“Since the budget initially passed the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority, it is my hope that the same bipartisan supermajority will vote for it again. But, ultimately, it is not up to me or Senate Republicans. It is up to Senate Democrats.”
Cooper continues to press his case for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, having held health care discussions around the state.
Since the budget veto, his case has been strengthened by the passage of Medicaid expansion in Indiana and Kansas, which also have GOP-dominated legislatures.
After a meeting Monday in Greenville with elected officials, East Carolina University leaders and health care providers, Cooper said Medicaid expansion would improve lives and shore up the state’s rural economy.
“Saying yes to expansion should be one of the easiest decisions a policymaker can make, and it’s time to stand up for our rural communities,” Cooper said in a statement released after the meeting.
Work besides budget left to be done
Although negotiations between Cooper and legislative leaders have yielded little movement around some key issues, a series of minibudgets passed by the legislature and signed by the governor have updated department budgets and cleared policy changes for much of state government.
Still, dozens of policy provisions and spending priorities in the budget have yet to be approved.
Among them are grants to towns to improve public infrastructure, additional spending for emerging contaminant research by the Department of Environmental Quality, funding and policy provisions to deal with failing water and sewer systems, and a hold on new permitting rules for large-scale swine operations.
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