The North Carolina General Assembly continues to deliberate a state budget, but negotiations hit a significant roadblock this week due to a division among Republican lawmakers concerning the inclusion of new casinos and video lottery terminals within the state's fiscal plan. Currently, casinos are only permitted on tribal grounds in North Carolina. A state budget was originally scheduled to be adopted before the new fiscal year began on July 1.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has faced difficulties garnering adequate support among fellow House Republicans for the inclusion of plans for four new casinos in rural areas. Conversely, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and his caucus have been fervently advocating for the incorporation of these gaming establishments into the budget, creating a standoff between the two legislative chambers.
Speaker Moore has spoken in favor of proceeding with the budget's remaining components, which had been negotiated between House and Senate Republicans earlier, while deferring the matter of gambling for separate consideration. The Speaker told reporters Tuesday, “My hope is that an agreement can be reached very quickly to go ahead and move forward with the budget, as it's been agreed upon—without the gaming provisions—and then just run the gaming as a standalone bill."
Senator Berger has expressed his dissatisfaction with the Speaker's approach, alleging that it contradicts a prior agreement stipulating the inclusion of gambling if at least half of House Republicans supported it. Senator Berger told reporters this week that Moore and House leadership need to “live up to its commitments.” According to reports, around 40 House Republicans would vote for casino legislation in the budget, meaning about 20 Democrats would also have to support the bill.
To further emphasize the importance of reaching a deal, Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, indicated he may veto the budget if it’s not adopted by the end of September. Jordan Monaghan, a spokesperson for Governor Cooper, issued a statement this week saying the Governor “has vetoed bad budgets before and will again if needed.” Monaghan went on to take aim at legislative Republicans for negotiating on the contents of the budget, including casinos, “in secret for months.”
The Governor has previously indicated he would sign a state budget, due to the legislature including sections needed to implement Medicaid expansion, a major initiative of Governor Cooper. However, as time has drawn on since the beginning of the 2024 fiscal year on July 1, the likelihood of Medicaid expansion being executed in 2023 continues to diminish. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley said recently, that due to the delay in enacting a state budget, the earliest that expanded Medicaid coverage would take effect would be December 1.
Speaker Moore and Senate President Pro Tempore Berger continued to meet after Tuesday, the only day that votes or committees were convened this week. However, there is still no indication of when a budget agreement will be reached.