NC budget update: NCGOP leaders prioritize Las Vegas-style casino resorts, anti-LGBTQ+ hate over teachers, workers and Medicaid recipients

NC budget update: NCGOP leaders prioritize Las Vegas-style casino resorts, anti-LGBTQ+ hate over teachers, workers and Medicaid recipients

It has now been 69 days since July 1, the date on which North Carolina’s new two-year budget was due to go into effect. Republicans, who have a supermajority in the legislature and therefore only need to agree among themselves, have yet to reach any sort of budget agreement.

The budget is often treated as “inside baseball” (the detailed inner workings of politics that only experts or politicians care about) by outside observers, but it’s actually quite important, especially when so many other things are tied in along with it. In North Carolina’s case, teacher pay, public school funding, state employee raises and health care for 600,000+ residents are all dependent on Republicans in both chambers coming to an agreement and passing legislation. 

Unfortunately, the NCGOP has apparently found it to be impossible to do their job. As of right now, it looks like the desire of party leaders like House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger to legalize casinos and expand video gambling is the latest reason behind the delay.

Moore admitted as much in an email to colleagues.

“To be clear we will not pass a budget that does not have 61 Republican votes,” Moore wrote to his members at 9:23 p.m. Wednesday, according to WRAL. “As you can see, there are not 61 Republicans willing to vote for the budget if it includes gaming.”

In the email, Moore said to “watch your inboxes for a caucus meeting next week about the budget without gaming.”

Many conservatives are so disillusioned by Berger and Moore’s “leadership” on the budget that the NCGOP is now taking friendly fire. 

CPAC called out Republicans in a tweet on Thursday morning that read: “Lots of troubling reports of backroom deals and arm twisting coming out of North Carolina. A full-scale expansion of gaming, including video terminals and new casinos, is being wedged into a budget bill that was supposed to be about tax cuts for the people of the state. Transparency is dying in the darkness.”

Donald Trump Jr. joined in on hammering the NCGOP when he sent a quote tweet on Thursday afternoon that read “What’s going on in NC? Outrageous. Shady back room [sic] deals and crony capitalism are not the path to #MAGA!”

So far, most of the negotiations that have taken place surrounding these casinos occurred in private, closed-door sessions without input from Democrats or the general public.

Local officials in many of the impacted towns and counties (Anson, Nash and Rockingham) have said they have been left out of the discussions so far and residents in these areas are also upset.

Berger, who is from Rockingham County, is desperately trying to get a casino approved there. He has an advantage in that one of his sons, Kevin, is the chair of the Rockingham Board of County Commissioners. Despite pushback from residents, the board approved a plan to rezone 200 acres in order to build a casino.

Adding to the concern around Berger’s casino push is the fact that it appears he already has a “handshake agreement in place” giving a Baltimore-based gaming firm exclusive rights to the three casinos if they are approved. A recent investigation looked at how much money the company has given to Berger and other state leaders in the form of campaign contributions.

According to The Associated Press, as Republican state House members met behind closed doors on Tuesday, social conservatives, political candidates, and business operators held a rally outside the legislature calling on lawmakers to reject the expansion of casinos and the statewide legalization of video gambling machines.

It’s extremely clear to see where state Republican leadership’s priorities lie. Instead of passing a budget that will give our teachers and state employees raises, provide schools with badly needed money for things like repairing air conditioning and hiring bus drivers, and give health coverage to 600,000+ North Carolinians at basically no cost to the state, Republicans have instead focused on overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes in order to legalize hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ kids, put anti-voting laws on the books, and take taxpayer money intended for public schools and use it for private charter schools instead. 

For their latest act, they’re working on turning North Carolina’s rural counties into legalized gambling havens without a care in the world for the desires of their constituents.

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Patrick Zarcone

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