Berger says Senate won’t seek budget veto override

Eamon Queeney | The North State Journal
The North Carolina Senate Chamber of the Legislative Building in Raleigh

RALEIGH — N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) announced when the General Assembly returns for the legislative short session the Senate will not reconsider Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget, House Bill 966.

Berger and Senate Republicans cited state government’s precarious fiscal situation due to COVID-19.

“When we come back into session next week our focus will be on providing relief for North Carolina citizens suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state’s financial outlook is in a vastly different place than it was before this pandemic hit. Because of that, we will not be reconsidering the veto of the state budget this year,” Sen. Berger said.

The legislature returns on Tuesday to approve emergency coronavirus spending and policies, with plans to reconvene later in the spring to address regular business.

Additionally, Senate budget writers sent a letter to Gov. Cooper asking him to instruct all executive branch agencies to voluntarily find a 1% savings in their budgets. That 1% would provide $250 million in cushion for the state to spend in the next fiscal year.

While the House succeeded at an override last September, the Senate failed as recently as January to bring over the one or maybe two Democrats they needed. At that time, North Carolina coffers were flush and prospects for another surplus likely. Berger said then that the override could still happen in 2020.

The General Assembly’s chief staff economist told Senate budget-writers a few weeks ago that the state could see overall revenue fall as much as $2.5 billion below previous collection forecasts for the two-year budget otherwise ending in June 2021.

“While the state has built substantial reserves, we do not presently know how severe the economic downturn will be or how long it will last,” GOP Sens. Harry Brown, Kathy Harrington and Brent Jackson wrote. “In other words, we know we’re falling off a cliff, but we don’t know when we’ll hit the ground below.”

State government is now operating at 2018-19 spending levels with some increases passed last fall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.