The North Carolina legislature's brief one-day session this week brought disappointment as expectations of votes on a final state budget proposal failed to materialize. During a House session last week, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told members to expect budget votes this week, with votes possible Thursday and Friday. However, those expectations were dismissed by Tuesday afternoon when negotiations fell apart over the addition of commercial gaming legalization to the budget.
The only votes taken this week were on a handful of noncontroversial bills by the Senate in addition to three House committee meetings. The House Committee on Finance approved SB 527: ABC Omnibus 2023, which includes a series of alcohol modernization laws.
Also, this week, former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan announced that he will be running for Governor in the 2024 elections in the Democratic primary. Morgan will face Attorney General Josh Stein, largely seen as the Democratic frontrunner in the race. On the Republican side, the race includes current state Treasurer Dale Folwell, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, Jesse Thomas, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, and former state Senator Andy Wells. Incumbent Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is barred from serving a third consecutive term.
In other election news, Mark Harris, a pastor and a 2018 candidate for Congress, has thrown his hat into the ring for the Republican nomination for Congress in North Carolina's 8th Congressional District to succeed Congressman Dan Bishop, who is running for Attorney General. Harris announced his candidacy in a video on social media, saying “In 2020 Democrats stole the election from President Trump, and the year before, they stole it from me.” Harris garnered national attention for his alleged role in an absentee ballot operation in Bladen County during the 2018 general election, which prompted a re-do of the 2018 9th Congressional District contest.
The North Carolina General Assembly continues to deliberate a state budget, but negotiations hit a significant roadblock this week due to a division among Republican lawmakers concerning the inclusion of new casinos and video lottery terminals within the state's fiscal plan. Currently, casinos are only permitted on tribal grounds in North Carolina. A state budget was originally scheduled to be adopted before the new fiscal year began on July 1.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has faced difficulties garnering adequate support among fellow House Republicans for the inclusion of plans for four new casinos in rural areas. Conversely, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and his caucus have been fervently advocating for the incorporation of these gaming establishments into the budget, creating a standoff between the two legislative chambers.
Speaker Moore has spoken in favor of proceeding with the budget's remaining components, which had been negotiated between House and Senate Republicans earlier, while deferring the matter of gambling for separate consideration. The Speaker told reporters Tuesday, “My hope is that an agreement can be reached very quickly to go ahead and move forward with the budget, as it's been agreed upon—without the gaming provisions—and then just run the gaming as a standalone bill."
Senator Berger has expressed his dissatisfaction with the Speaker's approach, alleging that it contradicts a prior agreement stipulating the inclusion of gambling if at least half of House Republicans supported it. Senator Berger told reporters this week that Moore and House leadership need to “live up to its commitments.” According to reports, around 40 House Republicans would vote for casino legislation in the budget, meaning about 20 Democrats would also have to support the bill.
To further emphasize the importance of reaching a deal, Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, indicated he may veto the budget if it’s not adopted by the end of September. Jordan Monaghan, a spokesperson for Governor Cooper, issued a statement this week saying the Governor “has vetoed bad budgets before and will again if needed.” Monaghan went on to take aim at legislative Republicans for negotiating on the contents of the budget, including casinos, “in secret for months.”
The Governor has previously indicated he would sign a state budget, due to the legislature including sections needed to implement Medicaid expansion, a major initiative of Governor Cooper. However, as time has drawn on since the beginning of the 2024 fiscal year on July 1, the likelihood of Medicaid expansion being executed in 2023 continues to diminish. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley said recently, that due to the delay in enacting a state budget, the earliest that expanded Medicaid coverage would take effect would be December 1.
Speaker Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Berger continued to meet after Tuesday, the only day that votes or committees were convened this week. However, there is still no indication of when a budget agreement will be reached.
Upcoming Legislative Meetings
Monday, September 18
11:00 AM Senate: Session
3:00 PM House: Session