NC Democrats, with a few notable exceptions, slam GOP effort to tie casinos with Medicaid

Legislative Democrats came out Monday in near-unanimous opposition to a GOP maneuver to legalize new casinos by tying them to Medicaid expansion.

“They (Republicans) are cynically using health care as a political bargaining chip to force passage of a casino bill developed in secret and written by casino lobbyists,” a letter signed by most House Democrats said.

While the legislature passed Medicaid expansion earlier this session, the implementation of the bill was tied to the passage of a state budget. That budget is now several months overdue as disputes about casinos have roiled Republicans.

The newest proposal, according to head budget writer Rep. Jason Saine, is to create a separate bill that would expand Medicaid and authorize four new casinos.

Given that House Republicans lack the numbers within their own party to pass a budget with casinos, this new maneuver could aim to force Democrats into supporting casinos in order to secure Medicaid expansion.

A letter from the Senate Democrats, also released Monday, said they “will not be held hostage by Republican leadership in delivering for their handpicked casino developer in their pay-to-play scheme. We are united in opposing this latest political stunt.”

While both letters said Democrats were opposed to the proposal, neither explicitly said they would vote against it.

The bill has not yet been released, but during a mostly uneventful House session on Monday, new conferees from notable districts were added to an older bill about charter schools. Late in the legislative session, lawmakers will often gut older bills to craft new legislation rather than starting a new bill from scratch.

This bill could serve as the vehicle for new legislation tying together casino expansion and Medicaid expansion, given that the new conferees attached to it represent Nash, Rockingham and Robeson counties — all of which have been floated as potential sites for new casinos.

The conferees also include Saine, a chief proponent of the casino proposal, and Rep. Donny Lambeth, a supporter of the Medicaid expansion deal reached earlier this year, who chairs the House Health committee.

Notable absences among signatures

Some Democrats commented on a notable absence among the signatures in the letter. Sen. Paul Lowe, of Forsyth County, was the only Democrat not to sign on to the Senate’s letter.

“It’s great to see my Senate Democratic colleagues — with the exception of @PaulLowejr — standing together against this cruel display of greed and corruption,” Rep. Terence Everitt, of Wake County, said in a now-deleted Tweet.

Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue’s office later sent out an update saying Lowe informed them that he was in support of the letter.

The letter from House Democrats was missing signatures from several caucus members, many of whom have voted with Republicans in the past on otherwise contentious party-line votes.

“I hope leadership will come together and put the interests of all North Carolinians first as a priority and leave the bickering aside,” Rep. Cecil Brockman, a Guilford Democrat who was not listed as a signatory, told The News & Observer.

Other Democrats who didn’t sign the letter included Reps. Garland Pierce of Scotland County, Michael Wray of Halifax County, Marvin Lucas of Cumberland County, Shelly Willingham of Edgecombe County, Ray Jeffers of Durham County, and Kelly Alexander and Carla Cunningham of Mecklenburg County.