Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) announced earlier in October that the Senate would close out the long session by the end of the month. He made good on that promise last week, when the Senate left town after nearly nine months of session. The House also adjourned at the end of October.
Notably, the Senate did not take up an override vote of the governor’s veto of the state budget. Passed in June, the budget allocated $24 billion in state funding. Gov. Cooper vetoed the budget primarily because it failed to include Medicaid expansion, his signature issue for the legislative session and an overall bad idea for North Carolina.
The House overrode the governor’s veto in a controversial session where a majority of the Democratic House members were not present (and we still don’t know where they were). The fake news narrative that the Democrats were at a September 11th memorial service made the event blow up, and increased the political pressure on Senate Democrats to hold the party line on the governor’s veto. This could have influenced Senate leadership’s decision to adjourn without the veto override vote, if they felt the vote would ultimately fail.
What are the implications of adjourning without a state budget? Is the state headed for a shutdown, or could it face “underfunding,” as some on the Left vaguely claim?
The situation is actually far from dire. Due to a 2016 change in law, the state reverts back to the previous year’s spending level if a new budget is not passed by the beginning of the new fiscal year (July 1). North Carolina has been operating under such a continuation budget for four months now. The General Assembly has passed a series of “mini-budget” bills, however, implementing some of the most popular spending increases from the larger budget – such as funding for rape kit testing and teacher and state employee pay raises.
All things considered, the wheels of state government have continued to roll under the continuation spending and mini-budget model, so the legislature’s decision to leave with no official budget document is not unreasonable given the on-going battle with the governor and the cost to taxpayers of the ongoing session. In fact, state taxpayers benefit from the move if this method of budgeting is the price to pay for not expanding Medicaid, which would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and threaten access to healthcare for the state’s most in-need populations.