The primary purpose of the long session of the General Assembly — the session which takes place in odd years — is to pass the two-year budget that will be in force until the next legislature is chosen. This year, that process has hit an impasse, as the budget passed by the legislature in June was vetoed by Governor Cooper, and the legislature has so far been unable to override this veto.
Recently, in order to overcome this stalemate, the legislature and governor have been working to pass smaller mini-budgets on which they agree, such as a recent bill to give raises to many state employees. Areas on which they have yet to pass funding include Medicaid — which is at the center of the budget dispute — and raises for UNC System employees.
These can both impact people on our campus. Non-dependent students may be eligible for Medicaid, and raises for our staff and faculty can improve the well-being of the employees which form a core part of our community. Unless and until these are passed into law as part of budget negotiations, we won’t be able to benefit from this.
For the past several years, Republicans have held sufficient power to pass the budget unilaterally, either through the governor’s signature or through a supermajority in the legislature. However, after the 2018 elections, Democrats gained enough seats to eliminate this power in both chambers, meaning the governor could enforce his veto for the first time in his tenure.
Cooper argues that there are several problems with the budget as-is, including the lack of Medicaid expansion and increases in education spending which he calls insufficient. Both sides have claimed that the other has failed to come to the negotiating table.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican leading negotiations, has claimed that Cooper refuses to negotiate unless Medicaid expansion is put on the table. Meanwhile, Cooper sent a budget counter-offer on July 8 which he says Republicans have not responded to.
In order to alleviate the burden of this dispute, the legislature turned to several smaller mini-budgets. Several are scheduled for a vote next week, and so far these have seen more success. Eventually, legislators will have to discuss the more controversial aspects of the budget.
Fortunately for North Carolinians, this impasse cannot cause a government shutdown, which happened at the federal level last winter after Congress was unable to agree on funding for the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. The state government is currently being funded at levels set by the 2017-2018 budget.
Legislators and the governor must come to some agreement regarding the outstanding portions of the budget. Not only does the current gridlock prevent raises and increases in funding for public education and universities, it also prohibits discussion of other issues facing the state. Hurricane season is ramping up, and seeing as we’ve been hit with two major storms in the past three years, we need to stay on our toes.
The day-to-day business of running a state also needs frequent attention, so the more time is spent avoiding debating funding levels, the less time there will be later to determine how to optimally use those funds. Two months of budget battles are making us all war-weary.