North Carolina Governor halts casino expansion scheme
revious moves made by Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina could have resulted in the approval of a state budget that had been postponed for a long time, including Medicaid coverage for several hundred thousand low-income adults, and an expansion of legal gambling through approval of additional casinos. However, Republicans destroyed the historic health care agreement they had struck with Governor Roy Cooper earlier this year by linking gambling's fate to Medicaid expansion. As a result, the Democratic governor denounced what he called “the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme” he had ever seen while serving in state politics.
Governor Cooper made the decision to reject a plan put forth by Republican state legislators that would have tied the state's long-planned Medicaid expansion to approval of a measure that would have significantly increased casino gambling within the state. The governor contacted state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the main supporter of the bill, to advise him of the decision, according to an administration official with firsthand knowledge of the matter.
Cooper's choice is not shocking at all. Cooper criticized the suggested coupling of the two unrelated themes on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, saying:
“GOP demand for passage of their backroom casino deal in exchange for a state budget and Medicaid expansion is the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my 3+ decades. People are right to be suspicious. Something has a grip on Republican leaders and it’s not the people of NC. – RC”
It is unclear what will become of the two ideas, each of which had been connected to the approval of a new state budget at one point or another. Back in March 2023, Republicans supported Cooper's long-standing goal of extending the state's Medicaid program in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act, but they did so with the condition that a budget for the state's fiscal year, which started on July 1, must be passed.
Supporters of casino expansion also tried to include their idea in the budget, but they encountered considerable opposition from members of the General Assembly's Republican and Democratic caucuses, making inclusion politically unfeasible.
Cooper is presumably taking a risk by opposing the Republican plan, which could bring Medicaid expansion to an end. Cooper has advocated for Medicaid expansion during his two terms as governor, which would have brought billions of federal dollars to the state, prevented hundreds of unnecessary deaths annually, and given hundreds of thousands North Carolinians access to affordable health care that they do not have today.
Cooper ultimately determined that the plan as presented was unacceptable due to the potential drawbacks of such a significant and unprecedented expansion of gambling in the state, including the potential for corruption and addiction, as well as the relatively small amount of tax revenue that the plan might bring into state coffers. Despite being contentious, Cooper signed a measure in June that authorized online sports betting in the state and garnered bipartisan support in both the Senate and House floor votes as well as other legislative committees.
After several weeks of relative silence in the Legislative Building, Cooper's decision coincided with a startling flurry of activity. Along with releasing a budget proposal, Republican leaders also declared that public hearings on redistricting would be held.
“Latest maneuvering on North Carolina budget, casinos could end with Medicaid expansion going down” , by Associated Press, www.cbs17.com, September 19, 2023.