North Carolina lawmakers have stepped in to try to prevent a government shutdown in the midst of a battle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers over a new state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Members of the House Appropriations Committee met Wednesday and approved a bill that would continue to fund some of the state’s operations using excess revenue from the 2019 Fiscal Year budget.
The bill secures funding for public schools and tuition costs for veterans. It maintains a discounted tuition plan at certain colleges, technology for social services assistance programs, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and state employee retirement contributions. Also covered are disaster relief grants, funds for a steam plant replacement project, hiring for a criminal justice reform initiative and Department of Revenue's operations.
“These items are the ones that we absolutely have to do to keep the state operational and moving forward,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth, a senior chair of the committee.
Several of the allocated items in the bill are required by federal law. In-state tuition for veterans and use of the Medicaid Transformation Fund are a part of those obligations.
In addition to the federal GI Bill that covers some of the tuition costs for veterans and their families, North Carolina offers veterans free in-state tuition at public institutions and waives the 12-month residency requirement for some veterans. The Medicaid fund keeps the public health insurance program running.
The supplemental funds approved Wednesday will also make good on the promise the state made to put a down payment on a juvenile justice reform program. “Raise the Age,” as the program is called, will stop 16- and 17-year-olds from being tried as adults for certain crimes. The initial funding will be used to hire 180 full-time employees for the program.
“We made a number of commitments, and we need to honor those commitments,” said Lambeth, the bill’s sponsor.
The new fiscal year started July 1, but a new budget remains in limbo after Gov. Cooper vetoed the legislature's spending plan on June 28. Cooper has since presented what he calls a compromise spending plan for Fiscal Year 2020. Lawmakers in the House and Senate have a choice between overriding Cooper's veto, accepting the goveror's plan, or shaping something new.
All of the items on the supplemental appropriations bill approved by the House committee Wednesday are included in the budget proposal. The supplemental bill still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by Cooper. The funding will be retroactive to July 1, so there will be no overlap once the budget is approved.
The members of the committee made a unanimous decision to move the bill forward, but one member said it should not have been up to them to make sure the state’s operations are properly funded after a budget was already manufactured.
“The governor vetoed the budget, and if he doesn’t – we need to let him dance for his stupidity,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.
The House is scheduled to consider the override during its afternoon session on Wednesday, a decision that has been tabled for two consecutive days.