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Smith undecided about her vote on state's proposed budget

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Rep. Kandie Smith speaks during a town hall meeting held at Pitt Community College on June 25, 2019.

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Tyler Stocks

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

WINTERVILLE — The state budget took center stage on Tuesday, both in Raleigh and in Pitt County.

North Carolina lawmakers unveiled their $24 billion budget plan, in hopes of adopting it this week to send to Gov. Roy Cooper before a deadline of July 1.

And Tuesday evening, State Rep. Kandie Smith hosted a town hall at Pitt Community College to gather input from the public on local priorities and concerns.

“I wanted to make sure that I had a listening session,” Smith said. “I call this a listening session because I want to hear your thoughts.

“I want to hear your concerns regarding this budget,” she said. “I think it’s critical that we have this conversation because it’s budget time.”

The compromise budget restores planning money for a new East Carolina University medical school building and Medicaid reimbursements to Vidant Medical Center that an earlier Senate version did not include.

That move pleased Smith, who wrote the House leadership last week asking them to restore the Medicaid reimbursement.

The proposed budget does not fund Medicaid expansion, which Cooper has said is a priority, and which may prompt him to veto it.

Smith, a first-term Democratic representative, stressed the importance of the budget vote.

“This is one of the most important votes we take as legislators, because it affects you,” she told the town hall audience. “I wanted to make sure you know what’s happening, what’s happened so far and what the next steps are.”

Medicaid expansion became a talking point among those in attendance. Jermaine McNair, the founder of N.C. Civil, asked Smith how feasible it is to expand the program.

“That’s the question I asked before I came,” Smith said. “I said is it’s possible? Because once the budget is vetoed, if it’s vetoed, we have to come back to the table, but now we have to bring the governor back to the table.”

She was quick to point out that Cooper is determined to seek the expansion of Medicaid since he campaigned on the issue.

“He understands the impact on people as far as taking care of them health-wise, but he also understands the economic impact in communities with created jobs,” Smith said.

Smith was asked if she would support a budget that restores funding for Vidant but doesn’t expand Medicaid.

“I have to take a look at it first, so I can’t say I would vote for it or against it until I see what’s in it,” Smith said. “I can say things that I’m looking for, so if we don’t have certain things I’m looking for in it, I would vote no for it. And if we have those things which are a lot of the things you guys have shared with me, then I’m willing to vote for it.

“Right now, I’m hearing from my district and what they seem to be telling me is (the current budget is) not what they want,” Smith said.

Those attending the town hall also shared concerns about education, the opioid crisis and other topics.

Smith said she welcomed the input.

“My job is to make sure I listen to people because if not, why would I invite them here if I’m not going to be a listening ear?” she asked.

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