Raleigh, N.C. — For just the third time in state history, North Carolina lawmakers have voted to override a governor's veto of their budget.
After little debate, the House cast the final vote Wednesday morning, 76-43, concluding the override within about 24 hours of the veto's arrival at the legislature.
House senior budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, spoke in defense of the $23 billion spending plan, pointing to raises for teachers and state employees, a 1 percent pension increase for retirees and funding for hurricane relief, rural school construction and a new incentive program for large "transformative" projects.
"We also are not ashamed to say that we are providing tax relief for middle-class, working families and businesses," Dollar said.
"Have the policies of this General Assembly worked? Yes, they have worked," he said, reminding the House that the state has run budget surpluses for the past three years. "This budget follows in that trend that we have established that will keep this state moving forward.
"This state is growing. People are voting with their feet, businesses are moving to this state," he argued. "Much of that is due to the policies that this General Assembly has adopted."
Speaking for the Democrats, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said the good things in the budget are "overshadowed by the bad," especially the tax cuts included in the spending plan, which, he warned, "appears to put a $600 million hole in our budget by 2020."
Jackson, D-Wake, predicted that the tax cuts would make it impossible for the state to get teacher pay up to the national average or give future raises to state employees.
"The money’s there for special projects for special people, of course," Jackson said, referring to the hundreds of millions in pork-barrel spending in the plan. "Budgets are about priorities, and that was clearly a top one."
He also denounced what he called "petty partisan paybacks," such as budget cuts that will require Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein to lay off as many as half of the special and criminal prosecutors who defend the state.
"I’m still waiting for someone to justify that cut," Jackson said.
All 74 Republicans voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto, along with two Democrats – Rep. Bill Brisson, D-Bladen, who almost always votes with the GOP, and Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, whose district would benefit from some of the earmark projects.
Cooper still maintains that the Republican-penned budget focuses on the "wrong priorities."
"I said I would sign a budget if legislators would target the income tax breaks to middle-class families and invest the savings on education and job creation," he said in a statement after the override. "Unfortunately, legislative Republicans refuse to compromise and have passed a budget that leaves middle-class families behind. We must do better for our students and working families."
The spending plan takes effect Saturday. In the meantime, lawmakers are working on proposed changes to it.