House to vote on budget and separate casinos-Medicaid bill this week, top appropriator says

Travis Long/

The North Carolina House of Representatives will hold votes on a $30 billion state budget and a separate bill that would authorize four new casinos and expand Medicaid in the state this week, a top House budget writer confirmed Sunday.

After the question of whether and how to move forward on a contentious casino proposal temporarily derailed budget talks last week, the House is ready to hold votes to approve the budget on Wednesday and Thursday, House Appropriations Chairman Jason Saine told The News & Observer.

The House will also vote on a separate bill, discussed by the House Republican Caucus during a Saturday morning conference call, that would combine legislation authorizing four new casinos across the state with legislation to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, Saine said.

Votes on the combined casinos and Medicaid expansion bill will also take place on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Saine.

The House’s decision to move forward with a standalone bill containing the casino provisions and Medicaid expansion provisions comes after state Senate leader Phil Berger, a chief proponent of the casino proposal, insisted last week that the proposal must be added to the budget and that it would not be appropriate to advance in a separate bill.

House Republicans caucused for several hours last week but opposition to the Senate’s proposal to put casinos in the budget didn’t budge, with House Speaker Tim Moore later telling reporters that 30 of the House’s 72 Republicans had said they wouldn’t vote for a budget that included casinos.

Negotiations between the House and Senate appeared to break down, but Berger and Moore subsequently said they had resumed talks.

Saine told The N&O on Sunday that the “bifurcated process” of holding separate votes on the budget and a standalone bill that will contain the casino and Medicaid provisions was requested by “members who were opposed to the casino legislation.”

Reacting to reports that casinos could be paired with Medicaid expansion, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said the proposal was “the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my 3+ decades.”

“People are right to be suspicious,” Cooper wrote in a social media post on Saturday. “Something has a grip on Republican leaders and it’s not the people of NC.”

It’s unclear how taking out Medicaid expansion provisions from the budget could affect the mechanism by which expansion could finally be triggered. Since an expansion bill was passed and signed into law earlier this year, lawmakers and state health department officials have been operating under a mechanism that requires passage of a state budget for expansion to take effect.

It’s also unclear if Berger and Senate Republicans will be open to the House’s decision to take casinos and Medicaid out of the budget and combine them into a separate bill.

Berger’s office provided The N&O and other media outlets over the weekend with a copy of the casino legislation that has been discussed privately for months, and said the legislation had also been shared with Senate Democrats.

The N&O asked a spokeswoman for Berger if he would support the House’s new proposal to vote on casinos and Medicaid in a separate bill, but hadn’t received a response as of Sunday afternoon.