Legislature votes to override Gov. Cooper’s budget veto

Teachers, state troopers and other state employees will get raises after lawmakers override the governor's veto.

The Executive Mansion in Raleigh houses N.C. Governor Roy Cooper, whose veto of the state budget was overridden by the legislature this week. FILE North State Journal.

RALEIGH — In a battle of dueling plans and priorities, the GOP-led N.C. House and Senate finalized short session budget adjustments over the objections of Gov. Roy Cooper and his party. Last Thursday, the Senate voted to override the governor’s veto by a vote of 34-13, and their counterparts in the House voted 73-44 on Tuesday to finalize the override motion.

Much of the back-and-forth between the legislature and the executive branch focused on education and taxes. Cooper felt the 6.5 percent teacher raises in the GOP budget were not sufficient, as he had proposed an increase of 8 percent. Surrounded by teachers, the governor had a press conference to lay out why he believed teacher raises and other elements of the legislature’s budget just don’t “cut it.”

There was also controversy about the numbers themselves. The governor disputed analysis from the General Assembly’s nonpartisan fiscal division which revealed a deficit of around $469 million in his plan. Republicans saw this dismissal as an unusual and unnecessary slight against neutral number crunchers.

Paul Coble, who oversees the legislative services office, a collection of nonpolitical support services, stood behind the neutrality of the fiscal staff.

“They call it like they see it,” Coble told North State Journal. “It’s a staff of professionals that serve legislators of both parties. They just run the numbers they’re given.”

Cooper also received pushback when a “spreadsheet error” was identified that significantly changed the numbers he had presented for his budget. The day of the override vote in the Senate, Cooper’s press secretary said the problem had been fixed and more accurate figures given, but not before Republicans jumped on the error.

“Senate Democrats followed Gov. Cooper’s lead and supported a budget that will lead to a roughly $470 million deficit due to a half billion dollar ‘spreadsheet error,’” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “They don’t explain which taxes they will raise or which 7,000 teachers they will lay off to pay for it.”

The governor was likewise critical of the GOP-led legislature’s budget.

“I will not sign my name to a budget that protects corporations and the wealthy at the expense of schools and students,” said the reading clerk, presenting Cooper’s veto message during Senate session. “This budget falls short of what our teachers and public education need. North Carolina will not stand for a secret, unchangeable budget born of a broken legislative process. Therefore, I veto the bill.”

Senate Rules Chair Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) moved to place the bill on the calendar for immediate consideration with a motion to override the veto. A number of Republican senators stood up to defend the budget and urged fellow members to vote to support the motion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) accused Cooper of “playing the blame game” while putting forward a “budget that would be out of balance.” Brown argued that under a budget like Cooper’s, teachers wouldn’t be able to continue getting raises which, as Republicans leaders are quick to point out, add up to 19 percent average increases spread over five consecutive budgets.

Berger later said, referring to the legislative fiscal staff’s analysis of both plans, “We’ve got that comparison on your dashboard, and what it shows is, the governor’s budget fails that simple test of competence.”

After expanding on what he described as increased spending and tax increases in Cooper’s budget, Berger said, “That’s quite an accomplishment to go from half-a-billion-dollar surpluses to a half-a-billion-dollar hole in one year.”

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake), the only Democrat to stand and speak against the override motion in the Senate, said he saw issues as well.

“The budget the governor vetoed was riddled with holes and landmines, and people will come to see that in the coming weeks.”

In the House vote, Rep. Duane Hall (D-Wake) broke with his party, voting to override the veto. Speaking during debate, Hall said he did so as a sign of support to state employees, who received “living wage” increases in the budget. The votes fell otherwise along party lines. With both chambers voting to approve the veto override motion, this budget (S.B. 99) becomes law.

Speaker of the N.C. House Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) unveiled a ballot measure to make voter ID a constitutional requirement for elections. After a court case threw out an earlier version of the legislation, the new measure promise to be contentious. Polling both in North Carolina and nationally shows more than 70 percent approve of requiring photo identification to vote.