This is your state government at work.
And we use the term loosely.
The legislature should have adjourned weeks ago, after, of course, passing a new budget. But instead, day after day, they are running up bills.
And guess who’s paying the freight.
On June 28, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the budget the Republican-controlled House and Senate had agreed upon in conference. Cooper disagreed with several parts of the budget.
At the top of the list was the Republicans’ refusal to agree to the governor’s plans to expand Medicaid. More money for public schools is also one of his priorities.
Cooper wants to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income people who don’t have medical insurance, and he wants to take bigger steps to improve public education.
On July 9, the governor came up with his compromise budget proposal, still calling for Medicaid expansion. But Republicans have stood fast against expansion, for reasons that are, to be kind, unclear.
How do you say yes to corporate tax cuts but no to relief for more than half-a-million North Carolinians who lack health coverage?
But that’s where we are ... for who knows how long.
Instead, the Republicans are just extending the legislative session endlessly, hoping that one of these days, there will be enough votes to override Cooper’s veto. But the Republicans lost their veto-proof supermajority in the most recent election, so they are having trouble getting the necessary votes.
Day after day, a vote on the override is rolled over on the House’s legislative calendar to the next daily session as “unfinished business.” And day after day, no vote takes place.
It’s something of a game of chicken, with Republicans betting that enough Democrats will blink as the stalemate continues. Or musical chairs, with Republicans hoping that enough frustrated Democrats will be absent one day so that the override will pass.
While the GOP lawmakers play, the Senate has started working on bits and pieces of “mini budgets,” pulling out various parts of the larger proposed budget. The idea is to pass various items without having to deal with the Medicaid issue, or at least force Cooper to veto those individual measures.
Fortunately, the state doesn’t operate like the federal government, and there won’t be a government shutdown even though North Carolina has been without a budget since the end of June. The state just keeps on going at last year’s spending levels.
But all this wasted time in Raleigh doesn’t come cheaply. As long as the legislature is in session, it’s costing taxpayers an estimated $42,000 each day. In addition to their annual salary, each member of the General Assembly gets an automatic daily stipend — per diem — of $104, seven days a week, no matter how many days legislators actually do any work or how many nights they actually spend in Raleigh. They all also get mileage reimbursements enough to cover one round trip home each week.
Other costs of keeping the legislature in session include money for operating expenses, salaries, supplies and everything else needed to keep the building fully functioning.
So the games go on and the tab keeps on mounting — at your expense.