The North Carolina legislature adjourned last week with some solid accomplishments — and some serious loose ends.
Still left undone are two major items: substantial raises for educators and Medicaid expansion.
That lingering impasse is both unfortunate and unnecessary. These dangling threads easily could have been tied with a little less recalcitrance and partisan gamesmanship from GOP legislators. Instead, Democrats and Republicans presumably will continue to wrangle over these issues into 2020.
The legislature will meet on Nov. 13 to consider congressional and state redistricting bills, and then begin a new session on Jan. 14.
To be sure, a number of meaningful bills were passed and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. But the delay on teacher raises and Medicaid expansion means this year’s deliberations can’t be qualified as anywhere near a success.
Medicaid expansion, which would help hundreds of thousands of low-income North Carolinians who currently lack health coverage, became a bone of contention between Cooper and GOP legislators that led to Cooper’s veto of the 2019-20 budget.
The rationale for GOP opposition (such as it is) to Medicaid expansion — which would be funded almost completely by the federal government, with the rest coming from hospitals and health plans — remains flimsy and indefensible. Still, House Republicans overrode the veto in a manner that Democrats rightly complained was underhanded and deceitful.
The override would have succeeded if Democrats hadn’t refused to break ranks in the Senate. Not that Republicans didn’t attempt to lure defectors by proposing a 4.4% supplement for teachers that would go into effect only with a vote to override Cooper’s veto.
“If Governor Cooper vetoes the bills, then he alone will have prevented teachers from getting a raise,” Republican legislative leaders said in a statement.
Don’t fall for that hooey. The N.C. Association of Educators called the offer “wildly insulting to educators of every level.”
“By trying to somehow entice Democratic lawmakers to override the governor’s veto with minuscule pay increases is not only disgusting, it shows how desperate Republican leaders really are to get their tax cuts pushed through,” the association’s president, Mark Jewell of Guilford County, said.
The education community has joined business and medical leaders in supporting Medicaid expansion, knowing that it would benefit students, as well as students’ families.
In the end, Republicans worked around Cooper’s veto, managing to pass much of the budget in bits and pieces that Democrats and Republicans could agree on. The legislature “passed funding that totals 98.5% of the original $24 billion (budget) it passed in June,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement last week.
But this still leaves substantial issues unresolved.
Another accomplishment of sorts in 2019 was an N.C. court’s insistence that legislative maps be redrawn to more fairly represent the state’s citizens before the 2020 election. It may be that the only resolution to the current impasse is a more reasonable set of legislators, elected a year from now.
If that’s what it takes, so be it.