The House completed the snub of Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto with a 73-44 override vote, as a single Democrat, outgoing Wake County Rep. Duane Hall, joined a unified Republican caucus.
The House vote on the Republican-written $23.9 billion budget Tuesday, June 12, followed the Senate’s June 7 override. A veto override requires a three-fifths vote. The General Fund budget will become law July 1.
Cooper has vetoed budgets both years he’s been in office. He failed to sustain either. The General Assembly has blocked 11 of his 14 vetoes.
“Today’s veto override delivering pay raises, disaster relief, and increased education investments is great news for the people of North Carolina, who are fortunate to avoid the $470 million budget shortfall and tax hikes proposed by the governor,” House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a written statement issued immediately after the vote.
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter saw it differently.
“The broken Republican legislature has protected special interests and income tax breaks for corporations and families making over $200,000 a year instead of investing in education and the middle class,” Porter said in a statement issued six minutes after Moore’s.
“Legislative leaders rammed this budget through with no public input or the opportunity for amendment, and North Carolina families should hold their representatives accountable,” Porter said.
Senior House budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, warned the governor’s $24.5 billion plan would raise spending and leave a $469 million hole in 2019-20.
“You can either slash education spending like class size reductions, pre-K, community college enrollment growth, K-12 enrollment growth, university enrollment growth. You can slash the pension obligation, State Health Plan obligation, Medicaid” among other priorities, or raise taxes by $861 million to balance Cooper’s budget, Dollar said.
He cited a host of items in the legislative budget to justify overriding Cooper’s veto.
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, disputed the contention Cooper’s budget had a deficit. He blamed Republican mischief for that math.
Usually the governor’s staff meets with legislative nonpartisan fiscal staff to agree to certain budgetary assumptions before developing their spending plans. Jackson said Republican leadership went back to the fiscal staff after an agreement was reached, and changed assumptions without the governor’s office agreeing, causing Cooper’s budget to then show a revenue shortfall.
When the nonpartisan fiscal staff did projections based on its own assumptions last July it concluded the Republican two-year budget would lead to a budget deficit of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion in 2019-20, and 2020-21, Jackson said.
“When you play around with the assumptions it plays around with numbers, and you get what you want,” Jackson said.
Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, the lone Republican to vote against the budget, reversed course to help kill the veto. He continued to express disenchantment with the closed nature of the budget preparation, lack of committee meetings, and a process that prohibited making amendments.
But he said Democrats’ opposition to the budget was driven more by political theater than sound principles.
“I truly think the play caller, the coach behind all this, is Blueprint NC, and some of those shadowy leftist groups that just want to get some talking points for the [fall election] campaign, and aren’t really interested in fixing process, fixing rules, and fixing the budget,” Blust said. He cited Democrats’ constant drumbeat for more education without tying it to results.
“Education seems to be the only endeavor on this planet where some claim success based on the inputs. You claim credit based on the inputs, and the actual output is ignored,” Blust said. “On our side we are worried about output.”
Blust, who is not running for re-election, also took a jab at Cooper.
“I went to law school with the governor. He used to be an old-line, pro-business Southern Democrat” in law school and in the Senate, Blust said. “I don’t know what’s happened of late, but I don’t think this is a veto that was well thought out. I think someone else is calling the shots.”
“This budget doesn’t do nearly enough for our teachers,” said Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, who voted to override Cooper’s veto anyway. Hall and Cooper have been at odds, with the governor calling for Hall to resign over allegations of sexual improprieties. Hall lost his primary race on May 8.
“Ultimately I care more about the outcome than I do about the process,” Hall said.
“I’m voting for this budget because it makes our state employees happy,” Hall said. “For the first time in history they’re going to receive a living wage. I don’t know that Joe Biden has been quoted in this chamber, but that is a big blanking deal.”
Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, urged members to sustain the veto. She complained that the Republicans’ budget placed $92 million from a federal Volkswagen consent decree for Clean Air Act violations under the control of legislative appropriations committee chairmen.
“The process that we are implementing in this budget may jeopardize our entitlement to those dollars” by cutting the governor out, Butler said. Elsewhere in the budget Cooper is given carte blanche authority to close down manufacturing companies that contaminate the environment.
“We seem to have sort of a schizophrenic approach to what we want to trust the governor to do,” Butler said.