Chris Humphrey: Veto hurts eastern North Carolina
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Since being sworn in January, I have been working hard to help the people I represent in Lenoir and Pitt counties — and the biggest opportunity to do this has been through the state budget. I’ve talked with elected officials, educators, administrators, nonprofits, business owners, municipalities, government agencies, farmers, first responders and everything in between about areas of need in our communities.
In eastern North Carolina, families are still trying to put their lives back together after two devastating hurricanes wiped out several of our communities. While Raleigh and Charlotte have benefited from economic growth the last 10 years, eastern North Carolina still needs help. Long after the camera crews left and the national media moved on, people are still hurting. Families are left waiting, hoping and praying for relief to come.
To make things worse, our education system in eastern North Carolina has continued to fall behind. Schools are operating on limited funds and our children are being educated in buildings with mold, standing water, holes in the ceiling and countless other hazards. Some of our children are even taught in schools that have no school resource officers to protect them from those who aim to do harm. There are also far too many kids from less fortunate families who can’t afford school lunches and sometimes go hungry. A child should not have to endure these conditions to receive a quality education.
There are several ways our budget begins to address these challenges facing eastern North Carolina as well as the entire state, including: $112 million in disaster relief funding, $4.4 billion for school construction across the state, $91 million for school safety initiatives and $3 million in school lunch assistance.
This budget doesn’t solve all of our problems, because no government policy can fix everything. Many of the issues facing our state are complex, expensive propositions that will take several years of consistent investment to get ahead of. But in this $24.9 billion budget, we made meaningful investments in education, infrastructure and economic development, all while keeping a balanced budget and investing $711 million to strengthen our state’s “Rainy Day” fund.
So, what’s the status of the budget? Unfortunately, politics have a strange way of making seemingly easy decisions hard. Promptly after receiving the legislature’s proposed budget, Gov. Roy Cooper sent us back a veto, calling for Medicaid expansion as a condition for signature of any budget. Because of these tactics, our state is operating on a continuing resolution, preventing new spending until a budget is passed. That means our hurricane relief money, school construction funds, SRO positions, school lunches, raises for our teachers and state employees and so many other provisions will have to wait.
Health care is such an important and pressing issue in our state. We have all felt the squeeze of rising premiums, less coverage and limited access to care. We are fighting for health care in North Carolina and plan to make educated decisions to reduce costs, increase access and expand care for hard-working people across this state.
That’s why legislative leaders offered to have a special session on health care reform after the passage of our state’s nearly $25 billion budget. Unfortunately, Gov. Cooper refused. The critical funding in this budget that addresses the needs of eastern North Carolina shouldn’t be held up by a completely separate issue.
We need funding for projects like ECU’s new Brody School of Medicine and the Ayden Food Commercialization Project. Lenoir County Schools desperately need their appropriated $14 million for infrastructure improvements and state retirees are long overdue for a cost of living adjustment.
I’m ready to talk about health care, but let’s get this budget passed first. It is too important to wait any longer. Gov. Cooper believes that our budget must be held as ransom to achieve his political goals. Until seven of our Democratic colleagues choose to put their constituents first and override the governor’s veto, our state’s needs will have to wait even longer.
Rep. Chris Humphrey is in his first term representing House District 12, which includes Lenoir and Pitt counties.