Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Raleigh Freedom Caucus -- Tough Gristle for Phil Berger?


A tweet this morning by Travis Fain of WRAL arrested my forward motion:

People who know aren’t saying it yet, so stay tuned, but today feels like the day a $30 billion state budget and massive healthcare initiative fall apart over gambling bills that no one outside the #NCGA has been allowed to read.

And here I had been thinking that House Speaker Tim Moore's statement last week -- that adding the legalization of more gambling casinos to the budget bill didn't have sufficient support among House Republicans to pass -- ended the matter for this term.

Apparently, not. Fain reported late yesterday afternoon:

Closed-door negotiations to expand legalized gambling in North Carolina continued at the statehouse Monday afternoon with no clarity on whether that language – which lawmakers have not released to the public – will be included in a $30 billion state budget that may pass the General Assembly this week.

The gambling issue has delayed that budget, which includes tax cuts and as-yet-undisclosed raises for teachers and state employees. Budget passage would also trigger Medicaid expansion, extending taxpayer-funded health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people in the state and representing a multi-billion-dollar boost for the hospital industry.

Leadership wants to add authorization for four new casinos, as well as statewide legalization for slot-machine-style terminals often called video poker machines. Including this in the budget would let lawmakers avoid single-issue votes on stand-alone gambling bills.

The key subject-verb: "Leadership wants." Especially Senate boss Phil Berger, who naturally welcomes what could be a $500 billion development bonanza for his county of Rockingham, with all the deep-pocketed influencers of legislation who would come along with the "development money," pushing piles of it themselves.

But who marches into Berger's office yesterday but the dozen-and-a-half Freedom Caucus members from the House, the most conservative and reactionary members of Berger's own party, who we have to speculate were telling Berger "no way" to legalizing casinos via the budget. They're part of the Republican caucus in the House that Speaker Moore has already said hates casinos.

Berger "has said repeatedly that the gambling legislation he supports will only move forward as part of the budget." Apparently, the Freedom Caucus isn't buying it, which perhaps led Berger to comment to reporter Fain after the meeting that the collapse of budget negotiations could inevitably also end porkpie projects in several districts of individual members -- and if you don't see that as a threat, you don't think like a politico (lucky you!).

When the Freedom Caucus members came out of Berger's office an hour after they went in, they were clammed up and unsmiling. They went immediately into a Republican House Caucus meeting, which Fain says started at 3:30 and was "still going at 6:00."

Photo Travis Fain

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