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NC GOP leaders send new budget-bargaining offer to Gov. Cooper

North Carolina General Assembly
Nick de la Canal

Republican legislative leaders sent another negotiating offer to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday as top government officials still attempt to enact a long-overdue two year budget.

The offices of Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore told The Associated Press that the joint proposal was taken to Cooper's office Tuesday morning. It arrived two weeks after Cooper provided his counteroffer to the initial pitch from GOP lawmakers.

A state budget was supposed to be in place July 1, but slow work at the Legislative Building combined with still-significant differences with Cooper have extended talks from the summer into the fall. The goal is to locate a middle-ground measure that Cooper would be willing to sign into law.

“We remain hopeful that we can reach a budget compromise,” Berger spokesperson Pat Ryan wrote in an email.

Cooper presented his initial budget proposal back in the spring, and the House and Senate passed their competing plans in the summer. By late September, Moore and Berger had hammered out a negotiated plan for Cooper and his aides to consider.

As with Tuesday's bargaining chip, legislative leaders have quiet kept their offers, saying confidentiality encourages frank negotiations. But differences between the legislative and executive branches on tax cuts, teacher pay, and public education spending have been obvious for months.

The emphasis on education spending intensified Monday when a judge said he wouldn't delay directing lawmakers to spend $1.7 billion toward a plan to reduce inequities just to wait out budget negotiations and see how much spending is agreed to.

If negotiations break down, Republicans could formally vote to pass a final plan of their own. If Cooper vetoes it, the GOP would need help from several Democrats to complete an override. That was something they lacked the votes to accomplish in 2019, leading to a budget stalemate that never got fully resolved. Without an override, legislators would appear prepared to again send Cooper several narrow spending bills that would get bipartisan support.

Cooper has said publicly he’s still seeking to expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of additional low-income residents, although it doesn’t appear to be the lynchpin to negotiations that it was in 2019. Expansion remains a divisive issue in Republican circles, keeping prospects for passage low.

The extended negotations have prevented lawmakers so far from spending $2.7 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds or from spending or formally saving billions more in unencumbered state revenues sitting in government coffers. State government still operates largely at the previous year's spending levels even without a new budget law in place.

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