Republicans send state budget to Cooper, with ultimatum

$23 billion spending plan now sits on governors desk

RALEIGH — State lawmakers took their final steps to send a $23 billion spending plan to the governor’s desk on Thursday, but not before sending a strong message to Gov. Roy Cooper, who has been publicly critical of the Republican-led budget. “The people of North Carolina expect their elected officials to keep their word,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) told reporters at a press conference on Thursday morning. “Governor, if the things you’ve said and campaigned on are more than just empty promises, you will sign this budget.”Cooper, in his first term as governor, has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with the spending plan, saying it is “the most fiscally irresponsible budget that [he] has ever seen.” He says the bill fails to meet his expectations on teacher pay, education and combating the opioid epidemic, and instead prioritizes tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations instead of the middle-class.”The tax plan in this budget, will blow a major hole is our budget just a few years down the road, handcuffing our ability to invest in education and the economy,” said Cooper earlier this week.But on Thursday, joined by House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and a group of conservative legislators, Berger said, “hearing the governor talk, you’d think we were on the brink of the Apocalypse.””When Republicans took over in 2011, the state had about $2 billion in debt,” Moore added. “Now, we’ve saved a record $1.8 billion in savings reserves. That’s a $4 billion swing from where we were.” “When naysayers said the sky would fall and revenues would drop following tax relief, what happened? We had budget surpluses. Now, we have a budget that’s going to cut taxes again — these tax cuts will help everyone.”Republican leadership argued that their budget does align with many of Cooper’s priorities, including lines for a 9.6 percent average teacher raise, $10 million for opioid treatment centers, and $700 million more for North Carolina classrooms. “Why in the world would the governor not want to be onboard with signing this?” challenged Moore.And then leaders pulled their trump card: if Cooper does not sign the budget, Berger said that they will “quickly override” his veto. On Thursday afternoon the N.C. House completed the standard legislative process with a 77-38 vote to pass the budget. The bill was ratified and sent to the governor soon after, where it sits on his desk waiting for a final verdict. Cooper has stopped short of actually saying he will veto the bill, but House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson suspects he will, and says “we will stand behind him.” Five House and four Senate Democrats voted for the budget.