RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The final version of the budget plan North Carolina Republican legislative leaders negotiated was released Wednesday evening and is expected to pass within 48 hours.
More than two months after the fiscal year began, Republicans said they’re ready to move forward with votes on the budget after dropping a proposal to legalize four more casinos and video lottery terminals.
The budget provides raises of seven percent on average over two years to teachers and state employees, phases in further reductions in the state’s personal income tax rate and significantly expands the state’s school voucher program known as the Opportunity Scholarship, among other provisions.
Once enacted, the budget also allows Medicaid expansion to take effect, which will provide health coverage to more than half a million low-income people.
Lisa Franklin, of Forest City, is among the people who would gain coverage. She was dropped from Medicaid earlier this year when her son turned 18. She’s developed an issue with her liver and may need a transplant, but she is struggling to pay for testing and treatment.
“It’s sad that in America, in one of the richest countries in the world, that I’m reliant on a GoFundMe page and I’m reliant on strangers to help me get the medical treatment that I need,” she said.
She went to the state legislative building on Wednesday, hoping to meet with Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). Neither spoke with Franklin, but staff members told her they’re optimistic about the budget passing this week.
“Essentially, I am dying,” she said. “We need this Medicaid expansion enacted in North Carolina, and we need it now.”
When Republican lawmakers agreed earlier this year to expand Medicaid coverage, they made it contingent on the state budget passing.
The issue has long been a priority for Democrats, including Gov. Roy Cooper, who will have to weigh whether to sign or veto it soon.
For the last several weeks, divisions among Republicans regarding including additional gambling options in the state budget were key in preventing them from coming to a final agreement.
“To me, it was devastating to feel like they were gambling with me and other residents of North Carolina for a casino,” said Franklin.
Speaker Moore said Wednesday he stands by the decision to keep Medicaid expansion in the budget and not allow it to go into effect on its own sooner.
“So, it all had to fit together. Look, I would have liked for us to have passed the budget two months ago. I’ll remind everybody, the House, we passed our budget in April,” he said. “The negotiations between the House and the Senate, but we finally arrived at a product that I’m very proud of. I think it’s solid.”
State health officials say because of the delay in enacting the budget, the earliest Medicaid expansion would begin is Dec. 1.
“If we’d passed a budget 80 days ago, a lot of these individuals and families that don’t have health coverage would have it today. And, my fear is that literally cost people’s lives,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake).
Republican legislative leaders are confident all their party’s members will vote for the budget along with some Democrats. The GOP has a supermajority capable of overriding Gov. Cooper if he vetoes the two-year spending plan.
“Medicaid expansion being in the budget is a good thing. There are a lot of bad provisions in there. Clearly, teachers and state employees didn’t get the pay raises I think they deserve,” said Chaudhuri.
Franklin says she hopes for a resolution soon.
“We need this Medicaid expansion enacted in North Carolina, and we need it now,” she said.