Commentary, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature, News

We haven’t seen it yet, but North Carolina’s budget has veto written all over it

As of this moment, we — the huddled people, press and politicos of North Carolina — haven’t seen a draft of lawmakers’ agreed upon budget, but given the latest dispatch from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, this one has veto written all over it.

Which is to say that our turgid budget process, which was supposed to wrap before the July 1 beginning of the fiscal year, may last weeks and even months.

Stated Cooper spokesperson, Ford Porter, Monday morning:

“We want a budget that invests in teacher pay instead of more tax cuts for corporations, that has a school and infrastructure bond instead of a slush fund, and that includes Medicaid expansion to insure 500,000 more North Carolinians. Right now, legislative Republicans are not interested in serious negotiations on these issues, but we hope they will change their minds and agree to put everything on the table as Governor Cooper has.”

Cooper’s office spoke out, with many expecting a proposed budget from House and Senate conferees in a matter of hours. Of course, no one’s seen the thing, a trademark of North Carolina’s surreptitious budget “process.” But the stagecraft squabbling by lawmakers and Cooper’s reps leaves little reason for optimism.

As The Insider‘s Colin Campbell reported, even a sausage biscuit confab Friday at the Capitol with Cooper, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore, was a blunt failure.

From The Insider:

On Friday morning, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger walked to the old Capitol building to meet with Cooper and House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake. Berger was spotted carrying a bag of Bojangles’ sausage biscuits, while both legislative leaders were carrying binders labeled “budget compromise options.” One of those proposals involves agreeing to a special legislative session “to address health access issues, including Medicaid expansion,” according to a joint statement from Berger and Moore.

“The governor previously proposed a ‘two-track’ solution and wants Medicaid to be ‘part of the conversation,'” the joint statement said. “This meets both of those requests. The governor rejected the proposal. We’ve asked for concrete compromise proposals from the governor for nearly two weeks now. He has refused to provide them.” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said Friday that during the meeting Cooper and Jackson “made clear to Republican leaders that they oppose corporate tax cuts, unaccountable school vouchers and the SCIF slush fund and said that any budget compromise has to include discussion of Medicaid expansion, a school and infrastructure bond and significantly higher teacher salaries. Gov. Cooper indicated today that these items are negotiable, but Republican leaders have nearly completed their budget and are unwilling to discuss all of these important priorities that benefit our state.”

With legislators’ veto-proof majority torpedoed last year, this is the first time Cooper and legislators have been forced to haggle over the budget. Which is to say that we’ve never seen this negotiation before. Which is to say that the only thing we know is what we don’t know.

Every indication is legislators are intractable on Cooper’s biggest prize, Medicaid expansion, a damnably durable position for GOP legislators that’s as cold-hearted as it is illogical. But it’s clear that another round of GOP-authored tax cuts, school choice spending and a K-12 bond are on the table too.

The latter may be a key wedge in these deliberations. Moore’s already specified his tardy support for a statewide bond, while Berger retains his trademark acerbity on the subject. To recap, North Carolina faces billions in school facility demands. Moore has been willing to create a bond for at least a portion of those needs, but Berger’s more conservative Senate is loathe to take on the debt.

The tit-for-tat deliberation is just beginning. Miles to go, it seems.

Governor Roy Cooper, News, public health

At Opioid Summit, experts call for Medicaid expansion

A new “Opioid Action Plan 2.0” unveiled Wednesday by North Carolina officials aims to combat the lingering narcotic crisis with new, youth-targeted programs, tougher laws and greater access to the drug naloxone, used to treat or reverse opioid overdoses.

“I’m going to work with all of you to make sure that we reduce opioid deaths in North Carolina and that we meet this problem head on,” said Governor Roy Cooper at the opening of the 2019 Opioid Misuse and Overdose Prevention Summit, a conference supported by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The updated plan uses “feedback from partners and stakeholders,” according to a press release by the Governor’s Office.

The original N.C. Opioid Action Plan, released in 2017, identified the steps that the DHHS aimed to take in order to reduce the number of deaths from the opioid epidemic.

Officials introduced the new plan during the second and final day of the Opioid Summit.

At the opening of the summit Tuesday, Cooper highlighted the progress made since the plan was launched. According to Cooper, since 2017, the number of prescriptions for opioids has decreased by 24 percent and the number of emergency department visits for opioid overdoses decreased by nearly 10 percent from 2017 to 2018.

But the most important step, according to the DHHS? Medicaid expansion.

“We need to close the coverage gap if we are to make serious headway against this epidemic, as they have done in other states,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC DHHS.

Numerous studies have shown that expanding Medicaid and closing the coverage gap has led to a decline in opioid overdoses by increasing substance use disorder treatment. According to the Opioid Action Plan 2.0, an estimated 89 percent of people who are in need of substance use disorder treatment do not receive it.

“The progress we’ve made shows what we can achieve when we partner across agencies and organizations and with those on the ground in communities,” said Cohen in a press release. “But there is much more to do. Moving forward we need to work even harder to focus on prevention, reduce harm and connect people to care.”

Commentary, Governor Roy Cooper

Gov. Cooper declares June as Pride Month

It’s undoubtedly a good sign that this is not a big news story, but for those of us who remember well the not-that-long-ago dark times, it seems worth celebrating the happy fact that the Governor of North Carolina issued the following proclamation yesterday.



LGBTQ Pride Month (Text)

Courts & the Law, Governor Roy Cooper, News

Gov. Cooper names appeals court judge, Mark Davis, to N.C. Supreme Court

Newly appointed state Supreme Court Justice Mark Davis

North Carolina will soon have a full state Supreme Court, after Gov. Roy Cooper announced his appointment Monday of state Court of Appeals Judge Mark Davis to the high court.

Davis will fill the seat once occupied by new Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Cooper named Beasley to the chief justice role last month when the former chief justice, Mark Martin, retired at the end of February to take a job as the dean of Regent University’s law school.

Davis will take over Beasley’s former associate justice position, arriving in time to hear oral arguments when the state Supreme Court convenes in April. He also intends to run for election to a full eight-year term in 2020.

“I know Judge Davis is dedicated to his work and to serving the people of North Carolina, and I know he will continue to serve with distinction as an associate justice on the Supreme Court,” Cooper said.

This is the second time Davis, a registered Democrat, has succeeded Beasley. He was appointed to her Court of Appeals seat by former Gov. Bev Perdue in 2012, and won election to a full eight-year term in 2014. Davis was previously Perdue’s general counsel and, before that, served as a special deputy attorney general at the North Carolina Department of Justice.

Davis, who was born in Onslow County, also worked for more than a decade in the litigation section of the Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice firm, now Womble Bonds Dickinson.

Davis’ appointment shifts the balance of the Supreme Court to a 6-1 Democratic majority. Martin, the former chief justice, was a Republican, and GOP leaders had been hopeful Cooper would appoint a Republican to the high court to keep some balance. Cooper has said before that he would appoint the best person for the job.

Both Beasley’s and Davis’ seats will be up for election in 2020. Davis’ appointment also leaves a vacancy on the state Court of Appeals. Cooper will have the power to fill it.

Several people have already announced their intentions to run for a seat on the state Supreme Court, including the only Republican on the court, Justice Paul Newby, who will challenge Beasley for the leadership position.

Other likely candidates in 2020 include Phil Berger Jr., who currently serves on the state Court of Appeals – he is also the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger – and former state Senate member Tamara Barringer, a Wake County attorney.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(Note: Managing Editor Billy Ball contributed to this report.)

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Gov. Cooper’s environmental budget adds $6 million to tackle emerging contaminants

Gov. Roy Cooper announced his budget yesterday, which includes a 20 percent funding boost for the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s 500-plus page environmental budget would increasing funding by 17 to 20 percent for the state Department of Environmental Quality, the target of withering cuts by the Republican-led legislature over the last eight years.

Most notably, DEQ would receive more money to address two of the state’s biggest environmental challenges — emerging chemical contaminants in drinking water and pollution from industrialized hog farms — according to the governor’s new budget proposal.

For Year 1, Gov. Cooper’s budget recommends an appropriation of $95 million, up from $79 million currently in the base budget, a 20 percent increase. In Year 2 of the biennium, the recommended appropriation totals $93 million, a 17.5 percent increase.

More than half of DEQ’s current $193 million budget comes from federal grants, fees and other service-based receipts.

The legislature rarely aligns with the governor’s budget recommendations for DEQ. Since 2011, the Republican-majority legislature has slashed the department’s budget, and some lawmakers — Sen. Andy Wells and Rep. Jimmy Dixon, among them –have been openly hostile to increasing funding for DEQ.

The governor’s budget would add $6 million and 37 full-time equivalent positions to test, monitor and increase detection and prevention of perfluorinated compounds — PFAS — in  water and air. A portion of the money would also support the Bernard Allen Memorial Drinking Water Fund, which pays for monitoring and testing and, when necessary, alternate water supplies for low-income North Carolinians whose private wells have been contaminated. The fund kicks in only if the polluter is unknown or can’t pay for the clean up, usually because it has declared bankruptcy.

Gov. Cooper is also requesting a $30 million bond for DEQ to upgrade its Reedy Creek Road laboratory. The facility, which tests water and air samples, was built in 1991 and has never been renovated.

Three new positions would be created to help hog, poultry and cattle farmers manage wastewater and comply with state regulations. And $125,000 in grants would be available for qualified farmers whose waste lagoons and sprayfields are in the 100-year flood plain. The money would cover up to half the cost of installing groundwater monitoring wells, required under a civil rights settlement between neighbors of the hog farms and DEQ.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to local governments for wastewater treatment facilities, would receive an $829,000 boost in matching funds. A similar program for drinking water would get an additional $2.6 million.

Brian Buzby, executive director of the North Carolina Conservation Network, issued a statement supporting the governor’s recommendations. “We are pleased that the governor’s budget proposal recognizes the need to address some of the significant threats to North Carolina’s water and public health – like chemical contaminants and industrial hog waste — and we hope the leadership in the legislature will recognize this need as well,” Buzby said. “The Department of Environmental Quality has seen drastic cuts to its clean water programs in recent years and fulfilling these budget requests would be a strong step in the right direction.”

Haw Riverkeeper Emily Sutton, who is with the Haw River Assembly, said the group is “encouraged to see” the governor’s additions to the budget. North Carolinian’s have been exposed to emerging contaminants in their drinking water for too long; it’s time this issue is addressed. We urge lawmakers to follow his steps and begin prioritizing people over polluting industries.”