Budget battles: state leaders use visit to aquarium to push politics

Updated: Jul. 26, 2019 at 4:48 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Several state lawmakers visited the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher Friday, but they were not there to see the fish.

While they did get a brief tour, the bipartisan group was there for political reasons.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore announced he would visit Fort Fisher to highlight a $14 million budget investment in the aquarium and visitor center.

“We’re traveling the state really going around to different areas and attractions to highlight some of the funding we had in our state budget. This aquarium is absolutely incredible. It’s a huge tourist draw for the state of North Carolina as well as the other aquariums. In our budget we passed there was $13 million to help here at the aquarium so we really believe this is money well spent and we’re hoping this budget gets enacted,” Speaker Moore said.

But the Democrats in attendance, including Democratic Rep. Deb Butler, said the visit was a publicity stunt to push their agenda.

“My fear, though, is that it’s being used as sort of a political stunt to point the finger at the governor on his good faith attempt to spend our dollars as wisely and as humanely as possible for all North Carolinians. So the Speaker’s suggestion that it’s the governor who really holds this budget up is not really accurate,” Rep. Butler said.

The budget, approved by the state General Assembly, was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper because it did not allocate funds for Cooper’s long anticipated Medicaid expansion.

The state General Assembly budget included a $5 million appropriation for renovations at the aquarium and an $8 million appropriation for the Fort Fisher visitors center.

We are 26 days into the 2019 fiscal year and state leaders have yet to agree on a budget, meaning the state is still operating under last year’s budget.

The Republican run General Assembly passed a budget without funding for Medicaid expansion, so the governor vetoed it and later offered a compromise to Republicans.

“He has proposed a compromised budget, that in my opinion is in all respects preferential to the one that the legislation has put forward. In that respect, I’m told there has been very little communication with the Governor, no response to his compromise. So it’s somewhat disingenuous for the speaker to say otherwise,” Butler said.

Cooper was in Columbus County Tuesday to talk about hurricane recovery and the economy, where he also talked about Medicaid expansion.

“What people need to understand is that the Governor’s compromised budget includes 98 percent, 98 percent of what the legislators budget contains. So to suggest it’s wildly different in some way is a fiction. He has compromised in large part, but there are some things that can be done so much better like expanding Medicaid,” Butler said.

“There’s a lot more to the healthcare issue and I think there’s more areas frankly where Republicans and democrats can agree on these issues than where they disagree so let’s don’t get hung up on where we disagree. Let’s put that to the side, let’s get the budget done, and then let’s have a broader discussion about healthcare in North Carolina,” said Moore.

Speaker Moore said he was hopeful the budget will be passed as is, and does not think it should be held up for any single issue. He was less sure of when a new budget may be agreed upon.

“It’s hard to say, of course we’re into the fiscal year already with a continuing resolution. I’ve made no bones about it. As an advocate for the General Assembly and for the House, the House position was the budget that was passed and I’m going to do all I can to see if we can secure the enactment of that budget, notwithstanding the objections of the governor,” Moore said.

Butler said she thinks it’s time for everyone to get back to Raleigh and back to work.

“In 2018, the citizens of North Carolina elected more Democrats than Republicans because they’re tired of the gridlock and they want some balance. So rather then coming down here which we’re happy to have him, but the grandstanding that is going on, I think everybody needs to get back to Raleigh and get the budget put together because that’s what’s most important.”

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