MVA Monitor – July 12

The legislature and the Governor were locked in a battle of wills over the state budget as gridlock over the $24 billion annual spending plan continued into the second week of the fiscal year. While there is little relief in sight with respect to the budget, legislators continued to run through several bills in anticipation of a long recess from session.

Issue Insights

State and Legislative Issues

State Budget

For four days this week, the motion to override the Governor’s veto of the state budget appeared on the House calendar. Each of those days ended without a vote on the motion. Legislators and Gov. Roy Cooper are locked in a battle over the State budget. In his veto message on June 28, the Governor argued that the budget prioritizes corporate tax cuts over spending on education and health care. Legislators argue that education spending is at its highest level ever in nominal dollars. A motion to override a veto must pass with 60 percent of the vote. So far, House leaders have not been able to muster up enough votes to override.

To address the situation, the House Health Committee approved a plan on Tuesday that some have described as “Medicaid expansion lite.” The plan would extend health coverage to the working poor, but unlike Medicaid expansion proposals favored by the Governor the plan requires that most recipients work full time and would require beneficiaries to pay premiums for coverage. Advocates for other Medicaid expansion proposals have argued that the work requirements are unnecessary as most potential recipients already work and that the red tape involved with monitoring the work requirement would cost more than the requirement would save with benefits. These advocates have also argued that the premiums required for participation would still put coverage out of reach for many of the potential recipients. That bill appeared on the full House calendar for three days, but like the budget, no votes were taken on the floor.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would provide funding for a handful of issues. Most of the provisions involved were necessary to draw down federal dollars, to provide for debt repayment, or to continue infrastructure projects already in progress. In addition, the bill provided funding for enrollment growth in the public schools. The bill does not address larger issues like tax reform, state employee and teacher pay raises, or Medicaid expansion. The bill passed the full House later in the day.

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Rabon, the Senate Rules Chair, introduced an adjournment resolution. The resolution proposes a “cooling off” period. Under the resolution, the legislature would adjourn on July 22 to reconvene on August 27. It’s anticipated that negotiations between the Governor and the General Assembly would continue over that time.

Medicaid expansion is at the heart of the budget fight. Here’s what it means for NC. (Charlotte Observer)

Republicans offer Medicaid expansion compromise. Governor calls it a ‘step forward.’ (Raleigh News & Observer)

Calls for negotiation, preparations for long budget stalemate (WRAL)

Farm Bill
A dispute about smokable hemp could derail this year’s Farm Act. The bill contains a provision that would create a new criminal offense related to smokable hemp. Smokable hemp contains CBD, which is alleged to have medicinal qualities, but contains only trace amounts of THC, the substance which causes marijuana’s high. Law enforcement argues that smokable hemp and marijuana are indistinguishable without lab tests and worry that the legalization of smokable hemp would be a de facto legalization of marijuana. The dispute between agricultural leaders in the House and Senate centers over whether the effective date of the criminal offense should be 2019 or 2020. Smokable hemp is not the only controversial issue in the bill, which also contains provisions related to public records and soil and water conservation district offices and whether shooting sports should be included in the definition of agri-tourism.

Hemp, marijuana fight may doom NC Farm Act (WRAL)

Local Issues – Charlotte

Mecklenburg Sales Tax Referendum

The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners voted last week to add a sales tax referendum to the November ballot. Voters will choose whether to raise the local sales tax one quarter of a penny, which would create an estimated $50 million annually. The new tax revenue would be allocated primarily to the Arts and Science Council, as well as county parks and greenways, teachers, and suburban towns’ arts and parks projects.

News Roundup