It's been four weeks since Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the budget approved by the General Assembly, and there's no sign of legislative leaders or the governor coming to an agreement.
To talk about the budget impasse, WFAE's Morning Edition host Lisa Worf is joined by Gov. Cooper.
Worf: What's going on here? Why can't you all get this budget done?
Cooper: I think the Republican leadership has been entrenched for so many years that they're not used to anybody challenging their budget, which usually is very heavy on continuing to cut taxes for the wealthiest among us and corporate taxes, and not enough investment in education and health care. We've challenged that. I vetoed this budget because it is a bad budget for our state. They have not been able to override it. Sixteen days ago we made a very reasonable compromise — a detailed compromise proposal — to the Republican leadership, but we've heard nothing because they're spending their time trying to bribe Democratic legislators to override my veto.
Worf: You're talking about money for local projects in the Democratic districts there?
Cooper: Local projects, but also they even put an entire state agency on the auction block. The Department of Health and Human Services: They have offered to move this state agency from Raleigh to a number of areas in exchange for votes to override the veto. This is why we've had no substantive negotiations because they've been spending their time trying to override the veto instead of negotiating with us and realizing that the people of North Carolina voted for more balance in 2018. They want us to try to come to consensus.
Worf: So, we've seen the dueling press conferences and the tweets. Are you saying that you and Republican lawmakers are not talking to each other personally at all?
Cooper: No, we are. We are talking to each other, but they involve the issue of Medicaid expansion, and Republican leaderships, before they will negotiate with me, want me to take Medicaid expansion off the table.
Worf: So that is the sticking point?
Cooper: Well, I've continued to insist that it must be part of our discussions. We have a solid Democratic Senate and House. Every one of them wants to expand Medicaid. There are many Republican legislators over in the General Assembly who want to expand Medicaid. Most of it is coming from the leadership in the Senate. And I think there are clearly the votes in the House to expand Medicaid. So now it's time for them to start negotiating this instead of trying to get Medicaid off the table and trying to override the veto.
Worf: Well, you have Republicans in the legislature who have promised a special hearing on Medicaid expansion after passing the budget. Why doesn't that cut it for you?
Cooper: We've been waiting for six years for Medicaid expansion that could have gone to insure 500,000 to 600,000 working North Carolinians, people who fall in the Medicaid coverage gap.
Worf: Well, I want to go back to the will in the House, you say, for passing some kind of Medicaid expansion bill. There's one there that passed out of committee that would expand it to people who work and just above the poverty level. But they must also pay premiums. Would that qualify as enough of an expansion for you?
Cooper: I don't like that because it's not clean, and because in other states that have done it this way, they have found it to be burdensome and it ends up costing more than the benefits that you get. And remember, most of these people already are working that we're talking about here, and they're living on the edge economically. So, for example, a premium: It costs more to collect the premium than you actually receive from the premium. However, all of those issues would be on the table for me if they would allow Medicaid expansion to be part of this discussion in budget negotiations, but that's not the only thing wrong with this budget. It doesn't invest enough in education, it cuts too many taxes for corporations, and we need to have a good discussion about it, but they have continued to try to override my veto instead of sitting down and substantively discussing this.
Worf: Would you be willing to do away with a corporate tax cut in order to get Medicaid expansion?
Cooper: You mean to give them a corporate tax — I mean they're the ones who to cut corporate taxes, and I don't want to.
Worf: Well, yes, exactly what I'm saying: In order to get Medicaid expansion, would that be a point of compromise?
Cooper: All of these issues would be on the table for discussion. That that is certainly a potential scenario of how this could work if they would actually negotiate with us.
Worf: As far as passing a budget, what are the pressures on you within your own party?
Cooper: Well, I think that everyday citizens certainly want us to come together, find consensus and pass a budget. I think it's clear that people want us to pay our school teachers more and to pay more for our state employees and to fund a lot of programs that the budget will fund. But, at the same time, we don't want to give up this opportunity. For example, the legislative budget wants to raise teacher pay 3.8%. My compromise proposal says 8.5%. That's a big difference. And, you know, if we're going to get our teacher pay to the national average, we can't give 3.8% raises because we will continue to fall behind.
Worf: That is a big difference between the two, but it's just a little bit below the 9.1% you had initially proposed.
Cooper: Yes, it's a compromise proposal. I put a compromise proposal on the table. I made a compromise on school vouchers in my original budget, cut them out altogether. My compromise said we will allow the people who have them to continue to use them except no new ones. But you know I've done things with this compromise that I don't really like, but I understand that negotiation is honest give and take. And we've heard no response to any of this. We're not going to bid against ourselves, and they continue to try to override this veto. They know when this vote will be held. Democrats don't know when this vote will be held. So, all of the Democrats have to be there ready and waiting. Waiting for somebody to go to the restroom to take a vote is no way to run government.
Worf: Continuing in this way, now, government hasn't come to a standstill. How is this impasse going to affect people?
Cooper: One good thing about it is we don't have a situation where there is a shutdown. Everything that is happening now and is funded will continue to be funded at current levels under the last budget. But there are some onetime funding projects that need to be funded this time that won't be. We are working hard to try and get an agreement on a budget so that we can go ahead and do it. The teachers won't get their pay raises until we end up with a budget. So, there are pressures to get a budget, but I don't want to pass a bad budget. I'd like a better budget.
Worf: That's North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. Gov. Cooper, thanks for the time.
Cooper: Thanks a lot, Lisa