Budget, budget, where is the budget?

The answer is nowhere. Day after day, the state budget for 2019-2020 remains in limbo, hostage to a power struggle between Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

Cooper, well more than a month ago, vetoed the budget passed along partisan lines by the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

Republicans, due to recent elections, no longer have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, meaning they have to work with Cooper or nothing will be done.

Cooper submitted a budget proposal that, among other things, includes an expansion of Medicaid intended to close the medical coverage gap experienced by thousands of North Carolina citizens, fund school construction needs and raise teacher pay.

Up to now, Sen. Phil Berger, leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, and Speaker of the House Tim Moore, a Republican, haven’t submitted a counterproposal.

Every day, I get a news release from the governor’s office with regard to the budget stalemate, enumerating the days since Cooper submitted his proposal—39 as of this publication. The releases, emailed to every news outlet in the state, are essentially a non-stop rubbing of political salt in Republican wounds.

For example, an email sent out yesterday by the governor about Republicans in the General Assembly asked, “When will they stop wasting taxpayer dollars and start negotiating?” The point was that nearly $1 million in precious state funds has been spent to keep the General Assembly in session when a compromise could have been reached more than a month ago.

The particular point of this budget fight is over Medicaid expansion. Democrats argue that North Carolina would be cruel not to expand Medicaid to cover its economically vulnerable residents. Republicans insist that expanding this program is too expensive and would end up being a burden on taxpayers.

Democrats cast Republicans as being heartless and unresponsive to the needs of our poorest citizens. Republicans cast Democrats as being irresponsible, liberal spendthrifts who would drive the Tar Heel State into economic ruin.

The reality is that “zero sum,” winner-take-all politics is underlying this whole process. One side can’t, for the sake of perceived political survival, let the other side be seen as winning anything at all. A lot of dirt is thrown, a lot of people get upset, and nothing tangible gets done.

Another reality is that Medicaid expansion is necessary, which is why 33 other states and the District of Columbia have passed it. It should have been done years ago, as soon as the Affordable Care Act was passed.

The role of the General Assembly is to help the people of this state. The trust put in members of the Senate and the House by the voters should be considered sacred and inviolable.

If Berger and Moore would swallow their pride with regard to Medicaid expansion and begin good faith negotiations with Cooper, this budget could be resolved in a matter of days.

No doubt both sides could get a lot of what they want, while compromising in other areas. That’s how this process is supposed to work.

The clock is ticking. North Carolina needs a budget for the coming year.

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