Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger says North Carolina went from a revenue surplus to possibly a $4 billion shortfall as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Berger told reporters Monday that despite the bleak economic outlook, lawmakers hope to avoid the layoffs and deep budget cuts seen during the Great Recession, more than a decade ago.
Berger believes many of the decisions that will be made in the coming weeks will be based on guidance from the federal government and the flexibility to spend $2 billion in CARES Act funding that has not yet been earmarked.
“It is my expectation that we will need to have those dollars in order to make sure we don’t see the kinds of layoffs and freezes that occurred before.”
Asked whether his chamber would consider Medicaid expansion to help offset healthcare costs associated with the coronavirus, Berger said he did not see a scenario where that would make for good policy.
“We are seeing multiple states have to cut their Medicaid programs,” said Berger.”The federal government through the various bills that have been passed, has provided North Carolina with funds to make sure anyone who is affected or thinks they are affected by COVID-19 can get themselves tested and it doesn’t cost them anything.”
Click below to listen to Sen. Berger discuss the likelihood of Medicaid expansion this year:
Berger said the state’s soon-to-be-released consensus revenue forecast will determine funding levels for other big-ticket items in this year’s budget, including any possible raises for educators.
Lawmakers are not holding out hope for another large relief package from Congress.
“I think what we need in North Carolina is not necessarily more (federal) dollars coming to the state, but flexibility with the dollars that are here to make sure that our normal budgetary items can be met.”
The senate leader said his chamber will also use the coming weeks to push for greater oversight of the executive branch, specifically in how unemployment insurance benefits are being paid out.
“We keep hearing they are hiring additional people, but that doesn’t seem to be moving the needle.”