The latest goal for a new North Carolina state budget becoming law is mid-October. All year, Gov. Roy Cooper, Senate leader Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore have pledged to work better together and get a budget into law. So that’s one of the reasons this process is dragging out again. There’s no stalemate right now. The chambers are working out their final budget agreement, and they will send that to Cooper before, not after, it comes to the floor for a vote. That’s a major change from previous budgets.
Moore told reporters last week that the House and Senate hope to send their compromise budget, called the conference budget, to Cooper this week. That budget will be confidential, Moore said, “to give the governor an opportunity to say whether he will sign it as is, or if there are changes that he would like to see before he would sign it, and then to have those negotiations.”
The House and Senate have agreed on a package of tax cuts, but don’t want to make that public before negotiations with Cooper. “And the reason to do it, frankly, on a confidential basis is to allow everyone to have a very frank and candid negotiation at that point in terms of the budget, and then try to get something done,” Moore said.
Berger told reporters recently that he planned for a few weeks of session break between the budget and the legislature’s once-a-decade, post-Census process of redrawing political districts across the state. But now those two things are running into each other. “The goal right now is to have a budget finalized in the first week or second week of October. I think redistricting will probably follow in the next week or so.”
Senator Ben Clark (D-Hoke) Will Not Seek Re-Election
Sen. Ben Clark, D-Hoke, won’t seek re-election next year, he confirmed Monday evening. Clark told colleagues about his decision during the day. He told WRAL News that 10 years is “probably enough time” in the legislature. He said he’ll finish out his current term, but there will be an open seat for someone to fill come the 2022 elections. “I’d been thinking along those lines for a little while, so I thought I’d just go ahead and make it official,” Clark said.
Being a legislator can be difficult, “especially when you want to do it right,” Clark said. The job pays about $14,000 a year, plus a daily stipend during session, for what’s supposed to be a part-time job but often requires long hours and uncertain schedules. This year the General Assembly has been in session since January. It can be even more difficult when you’re in the minority party, which makes it difficult for your ideas to get traction.
Clark said he also considered redistricting in his decision. Lawmakers are engaged now in the post-Census redraw of state Senate maps and Clark’s district is likely to morph before next year’s election. “I wouldn’t say it was an overriding factor, but I would say it was a contributing factor,” he said. Asked what’s next, Clark said he’s not sure. His day job is at Fort Bragg. Other than that, “all options on the table,” he said. And until his current terms ends next year, Clark said “I’m just going to keep my nose down and keep pushing hard.”
Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) to Retire After Current Term
The longest-serving Democrat in the North Carolina General Assembly will retire after her current term expires. Rep. Verla Insko, who has represented Orange County since 1997, announced her decision Wednesday. Her term ends Dec. 31, 2022. “It has just been an enormously gratifying career,” Insko said during a speech at the end of the House’s floor session Wednesday. “... I’ve been proud of actually being able to make a contribution to the difference that we make for people.”
Insko, 85, has been a consistent, liberal voice on expanding health care access and reforming mental health services. The Orange County representative also was a top budget writer on health issues when Democrats controlled the House. She helped lead a committee in the early 2000s focused on improving ballot security, especially with the rise of electronic voting systems.
“We have our differences, but one thing we have in common is we have those 80,000 people back home that are depending on us,” Insko told her fellow lawmakers. “People that are depending on me to make sure that government works for them and society works for them. It is a wide range of people with many different needs.” She told colleagues that she was a registered Republican before changing parties because “I thought the Republican Party had left me.” She said both parties make mistakes and the lawmakers should “keep true to your values.”
“Hang in there, and love each other, and fight the good fight,” Insko said.
Insko has been an elected official for decades, serving on the Chapel HIll-Carrboro Board of Education from 1977 to 1985. She was on the Orange County Board of Commissioners from 1990 to 1994. She worked for U.S. Rep. David Price in his district office and was chair of the Orange County Democratic Party. She also worked for Smart Start when former Gov. Jim Hunt started the program.
Her announcement comes weeks before the GOP-controlled legislature draws General Assembly districts for the next decade. Her departure will give mapmakers more flexibility to set boundaries in Orange County. The Democratic primary winner in March almost assuredly will get elected to the seat in November 2022 given the area’s leftward electoral leaning. Insko said she chose to announce her decision now to give potential replacements time to make a decision about running ahead of the December deadline for candidates to file for election.
The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in North Carolina has declined a second week in a row. With 15,824 cases over the weekend, North Carolina has confirmed just under 43,000 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days. The two weeks before, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 44,933 and 50,154 new cases each.
The downward trends comes after weeks of rapidly increasing cases due to the delta variant, a mutation of the coronavirus that’s more than twice as contagious as the original strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 98% of sequenced virus in North Carolina is delta, the latest CDC data show. The number of people hospitalized with the virus statewide has surged from 396 in early July to 3,323 as of Monday, though that number has decreased recently. On Sept. 9, 3,815 people were hospitalized. Of those currently hospitalized, about 27%, or 887, are being treated in intensive care units, down from the 932 reported a week ago. ICU patients hit a pandemic peak of 955 in late August. Deaths from COVID-19 have spiked since July as well.
So far in September, 849 people have died, and in August, 1,153 died, according to the latest reports from DHHS. In all of June and July combined, 378 people died.