News: CJ Exclusives

Cooper vetoes budget, turns standoff into November election issue

Governor disputes nonpartisan legislative staff's conclusion that his budget would cause $470 million deficit; GOP vows fast override

Gov. Roy Cooper in June 2018. (CJ photo by Dan Way)
Gov. Roy Cooper in June 2018. (CJ photo by Dan Way)

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the $23.9 billion General Fund budget for 2018-19, warning Republicans that voters in November’s general election will reject GOP candidates and their policies.

“It’s important to make this statement. It’s important to do the right thing,” Cooper said Wednesday, June 6, when asked why he would veto a budget knowing Republicans would override him. The thousands of teachers who rallied at the legislative building May 16 would want him to veto the budget, he said.

GOP leaders swiftly vowed to override the veto with their supermajorities in the House and Senate.

“The people of North Carolina deserve better, and they will get it when we override his veto,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a joint statement.

“I believe in November we’re going to have a reckoning,” Cooper said. He repeatedly said Republicans were beholden to corporations and the wealthy by giving them tax breaks. He said families earning more than $200,000 should forfeit more of their income in taxes to raise teacher salaries. Corporate and personal income taxes are scheduled to drop Jan. 1, 2019.

Cooper dismissed a study by the nonpartisan legislative Fiscal Research Division released just before his veto announcement that determined his $24.5 billion budget proposal had a $469,303,681 hole.

“It does not have a deficit,” he insisted, even after being offered a view of the study. “It’s a balanced budget.” He tried to turn the tables, claiming, without documentation, Republicans passed a deficit-ridden budget. The shortfalls will  be evident in coming years, he said, due to tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.

“The day is coming soon when the state budget will value education, clean water, and health care. But until then, this budget is vetoed,” Cooper said.

Berger and Moore disparaged Cooper’s veto message.

“Gov. Cooper has once again shown that he is more concerned about scoring political points than helping North Carolinians,” Berger and Moore said in a joint statement.

“Let’s be clear about what the governor has done. He has opposed a 6.5 percent teacher pay raise, he has opposed an 8 percent state trooper raise, he has opposed a new living wage of $31,200 for state employees, and he has opposed tax cuts that would result in 99 percent of families and small businesses having reduced or no state income tax,” the emailed statement said.

“Cooper’s veto is consistent with the Democratic strategy of making a ruckus about education funding in anticipation of the November elections,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.

“By vetoing the budget, Cooper is pandering to a teacher union that has committed to electing as many Democrats to the General Assembly as possible. It’s about politics, not principle,” Stoops said.

“Arguably, this is one of the most pro-education budgets in state history,” Stoops said. “Republican lawmakers increased the K-12 education budget by $500 million and awarded teachers an average 6.5 percent raise while lowering taxes.”

“We have to invest more in public education,” Cooper said, flanked by 17 teachers and education support personnel as he ripped Republican leadership.

“They had the audacity to claim that the legislature had done enough for public education,” Cooper said. They boasted about their level of education funding when “in reality [it] failed our schools, our teachers, and most importantly our students.”

He hit lawmakers on a host of Democratic themes.

He said Republicans did not adopt his plan to get teacher salaries to the national average in four years, gave some teachers no raise at all, deprived thousands of young children from getting access to an early childhood education, and gave education vouchers to unaccountable private schools.

He said they were out of touch by budgeting “a pittance” to address the state’s opioid crisis, failed to narrow the health care gap by refusing to expand Medicaid, and didn’t allocate enough for GenX research and cleanup.

“Unfortunately, everyday North Carolinians were shut out from this year’s budget process in an unprecedented authoritarian power grab by legislative leaders,” Cooper said. “Not a single amendment from any legislator was allowed, no changes whatsoever to a budget that was written in secret” with lobbyists’ input.

“Gov. Cooper’s approach to the budget this session has been entirely about theatrics, including today’s press conference veto,” said Joe Coletti, senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation who researches tax and fiscal policy.

“He presented a budget that spent every dollar even after raising taxes, and now refuses to allow a less profligate budget to become law,” Coletti said. “The [legislature’s] budget will become law with its flaws, but the governor’s approach would have created a need for still higher taxes on more North Carolinians next year.

“This veto is sad but not surprising,” said Chris McCoy, state director of Americans for Prosperity-NC. “Hard-working North Carolinians deserve protection from outrageous tax hikes, and we call on lawmakers in Raleigh to swiftly override the veto.”