NC Capitol

NC Capitol

Senate swats down budget veto

Posted June 7, 2018 2:46 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:51 p.m. EDT

— Senate Republicans made short work Thursday of Gov. Roy Cooper's budget veto, overriding it by a 34-13 vote – well over the three-fifths vote required by law.

At his veto announcement Wednesday, Cooper touted his $24.5 billion budget proposal as a better answer to the state's investment needs. But an analysis by the legislature's nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division found that Cooper's budget would have left a $439 million shortfall in the 2019-20 budget year.

Cooper rejected that analysis, denying that his plan would lead to a shortfall but offering no explanation for the differing calculations.

"Bless his heart," senior Senate budget writer Harry Brown, R-Onslow, jabbed on the Senate floor. "Found out later there was a spreadsheet error he didn’t know about."

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said Thursday afternoon that state officials had corrected the spreadsheet error last week, and the governor's proposal is projected to have a $165 million surplus in fiscal 2020.

"Legislative Republicans know their budget can't compare favorably to Governor Cooper's," Porter said in an email, adding that Republican lawmakers are "willfully misleading [people] to distract from their budget that favors corporate tax cuts over public education."

Speaking for the Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue described the Republican-penned $23.9 billion plan as "riddled with holes and landmines, and people will come to see that in the coming weeks."

"North Carolinians were shortchanged and shut out of your budget," Blue, D-Wake, told the Senate. "The budget fails our schools, it fails to protect drinking water. And it puts special interests before the interests of North Carolina families."

Echoing the governor, Blue argued that the plan fails to make needed investments in education, yet maintains tax breaks for corporations and people with incomes over $200,000 and includes provisions sought by special interest groups.

"You gave [GenX manufacturer] Chemours more input in this budget than you gave the rest of your colleagues in this chamber," Blue said.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger replied that every budget contains provisions that various people will or won't like.

"Overall, the question is, is there more good than not?" Berger said. "This is not even a close case as far as this budget is concerned."

Berger, R-Rockingham, also couldn't resist a swipe at Cooper's proposed spending plan.

"That’s quite an accomplishment to go from half-a-billion-dollar surpluses to a half-a-billion-dollar hole in one year," he said. "We’ve seen this movie before, and I don’t think we need to see a rerun of that."

"There’s not a single Republican in here that can or will vote for a budget that’s that far out of balance," agreed Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

The vote was strictly party-line. Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, who is considered vulnerable in November, initially voted with the GOP for the budget but switched sides on the override and voted with his party.

The House is expected to hold its own override vote Tuesday. After that, the budget will become law despite the governor's objections.