NC legislators betting on the wrong horse
Published 4:36 pm Friday, September 22, 2023
As I briefly mentioned last week, it’s September and the state of North Carolina still does not have a budget in place for the next two fiscal years. It was supposed to be done in July.
But, as usual, our elected officials in Raleigh – the state senators, the state representatives, and the governor – have yet to find a way to compromise on one version of their three budget proposals.
According to recent reporting from WUNC, the current hold up is a disagreement over casinos.
Yes, that’s right. The disagreement isn’t over the usual items such as teacher raises and tax cuts and other funding allocations. It’s casinos. The establishment where you can go gamble your money away to your heart’s content.
For some background, a group of Senate Republicans have been pushing since August for a plan that would open potentially four new casinos in rural areas of the state (not in our rural area, to be clear). They have pointed across the state line to successes in Virginia as examples of how these facilities can bring money to “economically challenged communities.”
Danville, VA recently welcomed a “temporary” casino while the permanent site is still being constructed. That site will include a hotel and convention center and theater as well to draw more people to the area.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican who lives in Rockingham County just south of the Danville casino, has been pushing for similar plans in North Carolina. He and his supporters argue that North Carolinians are taking their money to Virginia when they could be spending it closer to home.
But not every Republican is likeminded on the proposal. Some, like Mark Walker who is campaigning for governor, said he wouldn’t support the casinos. He also pointed out that casino lobbyists have donated money to Berger and other Republicans, which he says is a conflict of interest.
The disagreement leads us to this week where the possible inclusion of the four proposed casino sites has become the sticking point of contention between the House and the Senate. The Senate Republicans wanted to add the casino plan to the budget, but House Speaker Tim Moore says there aren’t enough votes of support to include it.
Moore said to reporters that he wanted to leave the casino proposal as a standalone bill, but Berger said that Moore “moved the goalposts” on how many votes are needed to include the plan in the budget and broke their previous agreement.
With no other discussions or votes scheduled this week (though I suppose that could always change after I write this column), it looks like the budget is at a stalemate between the House and Senate, leaving the $30 billion spending plan in limbo.
All this over casinos!
Now I’m not going to argue for or against casinos in general because I’m not a gambler and I don’t really care either way. (And, like I said, none of the proposed locations are in our part of the state. The closest is Nash County.)
But isn’t this the silliest thing to hold everything up for? After everything else that the House and Senate have been negotiating about for months now, it’s this little thing that puts the whole plan on pause? Is a shiny, new casino really the hill to die on here?
This isn’t a disagreement about education spending which affects students, teachers, and school staff all across the state. There is plenty to discuss concerning education funding, such as teacher pay, the “opportunity scholarship” program expansion, school construction funds, the Leandro plan, and much more. It would make sense that it would be harder to come to an agreement on some of these things.
This isn’t a disagreement about taxes, where cuts or increases play a part in how much revenue the state will receive going forward. Are individuals being taxed too much? Are corporations being taxed too little? The answers to these questions play a major role in statewide finances. We want to make sure North Carolina doesn’t just run out of money in the near future, right?
This isn’t even a disagreement about Medicaid (a sticking point in prior years) because that was settled earlier this year. Gov. Cooper signed the law for Medicaid expansion in March after an agreement was reached with the legislature. The expansion is expected to provide health coverage to over 600,000 people and bring billions of federal dollars to the state.
But, of course, the Medicaid expansion bill was contingent on the new state budget going into effect. So that too is at a standstill until everyone finds a compromise on the budget.
I can understand disagreements on these kinds of overarching topics that affect so many people across the whole state. If our politicians are doing their jobs right, they’ll be advocating hard for things that will make a difference to the majority of our citizens. But I cannot understand a disagreement over something as ridiculous as four casino proposals.
To top things off, the state budget proposal isn’t even public yet. The original three proposals were released months ago, but any negotiations to consolidate them all to one budget plan has been behind closed doors. Even the governor hasn’t seen it yet. So we don’t even know the details of the casino plan that’s holding everything up.
To the legislators in Raleigh, I urge you to quit gambling away time spent on casino arguments and just compromise on the budget. The odds are in no one’s favor the longer we stay in limbo.
Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7206.