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Casinos dropped from NC budget compromise ahead of Thursday votes

House Speaker Tim Moore, left, speaks to reporters about the legislature's budget plan on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
Colin Campbell
House Speaker Tim Moore, left, speaks to reporters about the legislature's budget plan on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

State lawmakers plan to hold votes Thursday and Friday on a long-delayed $30 billion budget – without a controversial casino proposal that had stalled negotiations.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger held a hastily scheduled news conference Tuesday night to announce their plans. Earlier in the day, they’d planned votes on two separate bills, one with the budget, and one that would launch Medicaid expansion and casinos.

But that plan would likely have required Democrats to vote for the Medicaid and casinos bill, because some conservative Republicans opposed both measures.

“Clearly, there were differences of opinion, and at the end of the day, we felt like this issue, and no single issue, should hold up a budget,” Moore said Tuesday night.

Berger, who has been a leading proponent of the casino legislation, called the new approach “the best, most prudent way for us to move forward.”

But he voiced frustration that “emotions got the better of the issue,” and he’s still hopeful the measure could move forward at some point in the future.

“That money that is being spent in Virginia” at a recently opened casino in Danville, “is still largely coming from North Carolina and will continue to do so.”

The decision to kill the casino plan for now will mean that Medicaid expansion will take effect when the budget bill becomes law – as lawmakers had planned since the expansion legislation became law this spring.

The final version of the budget bill will be released Wednesday, but some details emerged Tuesday. Moore confirmed that most state employees will get a 4% raise this year and a 3% raise next year. That’s more than what the Senate proposed but less than what advocates for state workers said would be needed to address a major labor shortage.

"Our House bill had even more raises for teachers and state employees," Moore told reporters Tuesday morning. "But this was a compromise position that we took with the other chamber. What I would like to see happen is, in the second year of the biennium, next year, is to be able to come in and even beef up their second-year raises as well."

Teachers would get an average raise of 7% this year, a figure that includes the scheduled raises they get based on experience. Starting pay for teachers would increase from $37,000 to $39,000. The top of the pay scale for teachers with more than 25 years of experience would increase from $54,000 to $55,100.

Retired state employees would get a one-time, 4% cost-of-living bonus. An earlier House plan called for making an increase permanent.

The budget compromise also calls for gradually cutting the personal income tax rate from 4.75% this year to 3.99% by 2026. But those cuts would be tied to the state’s revenue levels and wouldn’t take effect if there are shortfalls.

Moore said the tax cuts are one issue that caused budget talks between the House and Senate to drag on for months, because the Senate didn't like the revenue triggers.

"It allows for tax relief, but it doesn't jeopardize the fiscal stability of the state," Moore said.

Moore said Tuesday that a version of the budget bill leaked to several media outlets Monday was a draft that could still change, but he confirmed that key provisions in that draft will be in the final budget, including:

  • A new nonprofit called NC Innovation will get $250 million in each of the next two years. The group wants to help research and development projects from the state's universities become successful start-up companies. The amount is less than the $1.4 billion that the Senate wanted to give the group, but it's more than the initial proposals from the House and the governor.

    "We all realize that this is an opportunity for a great project with great business leaders to try to recruit and keep the intellectual property that is developed in North Carolina," Moore said.

  • A major expansion of private school vouchers, known as "Opportunity Scholarships." The vouchers would no longer be limited to low-income families.
  • A provision that would allow appellate court judges to carry concealed weapons in the courtroom, a change that prompted a comment from Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham and a former judge:
Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.