House unanimously OKs stopgap plan

Flanked by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, left, and House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger, right, Gov. Roy Cooper delivers the biennial State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)
RALEIGH — Debate over a narrow spending package to help North Carolina’s government operate in the new fiscal year turned into finger-pointing over a broader budget impasse.

The House unanimously approved on Wednesday what Republican budget-writers call a “stopgap” spending bill and sent it to the Senate.

There’s been no danger of a government shutdown since the year began July 1 even as Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed on June 28 a two-year budget written by Republican legislators. But Wednesday’s measure provides money for items like public school enrollment growth, anticipated juvenile justice case increases and tax collection improvements.

While some Republicans pointed out what they consider good items in their budget bill are absent from the stopgap plan, Democrats blamed GOP leaders for failing to negotiate with Cooper in good faith to end the deadlock.

House Republican leaders have been unsuccessful this week in attempting to override Cooper’s budget veto, failing to persuade enough Democrats to join them. While Republicans hold majorities in both chambers, they no longer have veto-proof margins, giving Cooper more leverage.

Cooper, who vetoed the measure because it lacked Medicaid expansion and included corporate tax cuts among other reasons, made a public counteroffer to GOP legislators on Tuesday. But Republican leaders accused Cooper of blocking credible negotiations because he insists on expansion.

Cooper’s office released a letter late Wednesday that the governor sent to House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger. He asked them for an in-person or phone meeting as early as Thursday to “work toward a compromise budget that requires give and take from us all.”

“It has become clear that you do not have the votes to override my veto of the budget,” Cooper wrote.

Berger and Moore’s staff responded to Cooper’s office by saying a productive conversation about a budget compromise needs to be “free from the governor’s ultimatum that no budget can move forward without Medicaid expansion.” Berger’s office said Berger is currently in Germany attending a gathering of Senate leaders from the states and will return this weekend.

Time could be dwindling for a quick budget resolution. GOP Sen. Bill Rabon, the Rules Committee chairman, filed legislation Wednesday that, if approved, would have lawmakers shut down this year’s session from July 22 until late August.