NC legislature goes home, still without budget resolution

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly went home on Thursday for a brief respite from Raleigh, still without the Republicans' original two-year budget bill enacted and an uncertain path forward on Medicaid after nine months of legislating this year.

The House and Senate adjourned its session after several hours of floor and committee debate and votes on some divisive measures between the two parties that frayed nerves.

"I'm ready to go home ... We're all ready to go home," House Majority Leader John Bell of Wayne County said as Republicans and Democrats traded accusations during a teacher pay bill debate of inappropriate personal attacks upon each other.

The legislature agreed to return on Nov. 13 to consider changes to the state's congressional district map. Judges this week halted the use of the current map in the 2020 elections because of likely illegal gerrymandering within it.

The adjournment resolution says they can also return to vote on House-Senate compromise legislation that has or is already being negotiated, such as hemp farming legislation and another funding bill to pay for recent hurricane damages.

The resolution says overrides of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's vetoes won't be considered until January. That means action can't occur on the budget bill or funding to carry out the state's long-planned Medicaid managed-care overhaul, which is now in danger of failing to begin Feb. 1. But legislative leaders have enough parliamentary maneuvers at their disposal to act on these matters if necessary.

Cooper vetoed the GOP's two-year budget bill in June, complaining about additional corporate income tax cuts and weak teacher pay within and the absence of a program to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of additional adults. Negotiations went nowhere, with Medicaid expansion the pivot point. Expansion and other health care access matters could be debated in January.

Republican leaders this week still couldn't locate a Senate Democrat or two to join them in completing a veto override, even after unveiling a bill that could have raised teacher and university pay even higher than the budget directs — 4.4% over two years on average for K-12 teachers compared to 3.9% in the budget, for example. Those supplemental raises, however, wouldn't happen unless the budget override was successful.

The two chambers passed that measure on Thursday, but not before Cooper rebuked Republican leaders on Twitter for holding "teachers hostage" and likening them to "kidnappers wanting ALL the ransom $$ and still not letting victims go." Senate leader Phil Berger's office said Cooper was misleading the public because the 3.9% average raises would have occurred without the override of the broader budget bill.

Cooper and his allies argue there's enough state revenues to double the average teacher raises compared to the percentages that Republicans are pitching.

"We're still here, and we're still fighting for teacher pay and fairness," House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County told colleagues.

The teacher pay bill this week continued the GOP's strategy of passing portions of the vetoed budget in smaller bills that focused on specific agencies or topics.

On Thursday, Republicans finalized a pair of tax bills originating from the budget and sent them to Cooper. One contained the budget's corporate franchise tax cuts, so the governor is likely to veto that. Another contained increases in the standard deductions that individual income tax filers can claim. That bill received bipartisan support.

Other "mini-budget" bills approved since August included money for school security, prison safety, disaster relief and pay raises for state employees and correctional officers. Cooper signed nearly all of the "mini budgets" into law.

Berger's office said all of those bills, if enacted, would result in appropriating nearly all of the $24 billion that the vetoed budget was expected to spend during the fiscal year that began July 1.

Before adjournment, the legislature on Thursday also agreed to send to Cooper's desk measures strengthening sexual assault and abuse laws and offering loans to rural hospitals that are struggling financially.

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