Republicans at the North Carolina legislature converged Tuesday in a standoff over an already long-delayed budget plan because the House and Senate disagree on adding provisions that would further expand state-sanctioned gambling.
House Speaker Tim Moore said not enough of his GOP colleagues in the chamber are willing to support a final budget that includes the authorization of new casinos and video gambling machines for it to be contained in the negotiated plan.
"At this point, the only way the House can pass a budget is if it does not include gaming in it," Moore told reporters.
But Senate leader Phil Berger said that his House counterparts should stick to backing gambling provisions that a majority of the House Republicans support.
Since Moore confirmed earlier Tuesday that 30 of the 72 House Republicans opposed inserting the section on expanding gambling, a majority of those Republicans agreed to it.
"It is their responsibility to honor the agreement that we had, and that is put (gambling) in, put (the budget) on the floor and we'll vote it," Berger told reporters. "I believe that House leadership needs to live up to its commitments."
Moore said later Tuesday that no such agreement was broken, and that agreeing to a final budget was contingent on having votes to pass it. Those 30 Republicans said they won't vote "yes" if gambling is included, he said.
A two-year budget — spending roughly $30 billion annually — was supposed to be enacted by July 1. But negotiations between House and Senate Republicans continued through the summer on a host of issues, including income tax cuts, pay raises, and the distribution of billions of dollars in reserve for special programs and initiatives.
But many lawmakers, Berger included, have pushed for a final plan to include the authorization of additional casinos and the legalization of video gambling machines statewide. Now passage of the other budget provisions are in jeopardy.
Details on much of the gambling provisions haven't been made public. House Republicans met for several hours behind closed doors both last week and on Monday to evaluate them. Members of the House Freedom Caucus, who make up many of the "no" Republican votes on gambling, also met separately on Monday with Berger.
"I don't think state-sanctioned gaming is good for North Carolina fundamentally," Rep. Jay Adams, a Catawba County Republican within the Freedom Caucus, said in an interview. "This should have been discussed months ago. It should have been understood ... that there wasn't support in the House, and we should have moved on to the more important things."
Lawmakers had said they were hopeful that final budget votes would happen this week. Instead, late Tuesday, Moore shuttered formal House business until next week, when he said his chamber may use a parliamentary maneuver to hold its own budget votes to try to pressure the Senate.
"We believe that we ought to not hold up what is otherwise a really good, strong budget over one issue on gaming," Moore said.
But Berger suggested that the two chambers may have to go back to the drawing board first.
The budget "is a series of compromises," Berger said. "If the compromises that have been reached in the past fall apart, then I think everything is subject to further conversation."
Any final spending plan would need to pass both the House and Senate before going to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. He said earlier Tuesday that it was "outrageous" that casinos were holding up a budget that contained money for public education, salaries and mental health treatment among other items.
While there are sure to be other provisions in any final budget that Cooper detests, enacting one is required for state health officials to begin implementing the expansion of Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income adults that was contained in a law that the governor signed in March.
While Republicans hold narrow veto-proof majorities in each chamber, the current division among Republicans means Cooper may find himself with more leverage to fashion a compromised budget, with the help of votes of Democratic legislators.
North Carolina already has three casinos operated by two Native American tribes. One proposal that surfaced this summer envisioned new casinos in Rockingham, Nash and Anson counties, and another in southeastern North Carolina.
Casino supporters have said more casinos would create lots of jobs in economically challenged areas, grow tax revenues and counter gambling options that are sprouting up just across the border in Virginia. But opponents living in the targeted counties and social conservatives have said casinos would lower property values and create more social ills.
The legislature already has passed a law this year — signed by Cooper — that authorizes sports betting to begin as soon as January.