Cooper may have his own wall in the budget

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Will Gov. Roy Cooper have a wall this summer?

Could it be something like Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border that he promised to build? Do you remember how he said he would veto the emergency spending bill unless it included funding for this wall? If Congress would not provide funding for his wall, Trump said he was willing to have the government shut down. He took responsibility, telling Sen. Chuck Schumer, “And I am proud to shut down the government for border security, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

Is there any funding that Cooper simply has to have in the state’s new budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1? Is there a program or project that Cooper wants so much he would be willing to shut down the government if the legislature does not include funds for it in its budget?

Would he be willing, like Trump, to take responsibility for shutting down North Carolina government?

We can ask the “Cooper’s Wall” question because the governor has, for the first time, meaningful power to veto a legislatively-adopted budget. Thanks to successes in last November’s elections Democrats have enough strength in both houses of the legislature to prevent an override of a Cooper veto.

The legislature is already at work on the new budget. This year the House will prepare and pass its version of the budget. The Senate will make changes and pass the revised bill. Unless the House agrees to all the changes, the bill will go to a conference committee, which will hammer out a compromise bill. After both houses approve, the bill will go to the governor who can sign it and make it final, or let it become law without his signature, or he can veto it.

Last week House Speaker Tim Moore said he expected an initial budget proposal to be ready for House consideration by the end of this month. Legislators with budget responsibilities have been working with the legislative staff to prepare drafts and examine alternatives.

These budget writers are also in touch with Cooper’s staff to try to get a handle on his priorities and try to find some areas of agreement. Also, they are trying to find out if there is something the governor badly wants in the budget that they would never allow.

That something could turn out to be “Cooper’s Wall” if the Republican legislature is as adamantly against it as congressional Democrats were against Trump’s wall.

What could that something be?

One thing the governor feels strongly about is Medicaid expansion. His proposal would “provide access to affordable health insurance to 626,000 additional individuals.” He argues that the expansion would not cost the state because the federal government would pay 90 percent, and the rest would be paid by hospitals and health plans. Budget-wise, he says, “the recurring savings to the state is approximately $70 million.”

Some Republicans support Medicaid expansion, but many adamantly oppose it, arguing that the federal money is still taxpayer money and the Medicaid program is wasteful. Therefore, in a Republican-controlled legislature, Cooper’s Medicaid proposal is not likely to be in their budget.

Cooper has not threatened to veto a budget bill that did not expand Medicaid. But expansion is so popular with his Democratic base that he might be tempted.

If he used the veto and the legislature failed to override and failed to adopt a budget agreeable to Cooper, then North Carolina could have its own government crisis, and the proposed state Medicaid expansion could turn out to be “Cooper’s Wall.”

D.G. Martin is host of North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on WUNC-TV.

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