Senate GOP needs Democrat help to override Cooper’s veto

Eamon Queeney | North State Journal
Senate leader Phil Berger reacts to a question as he previews the upcoming short legislative session that will begin April 25 during a press conference at the State Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh

RALEIGH — Aiming to end a four month budget stalemate without Gov. Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Senate’s top Republican said Monday that now is the time Democratic colleagues must stand up and decide what “they’re for and what they’re against.”

Senate GOP members have used a parliamentary procedure so an override vote could occur in the chamber late Monday. A budget override already was successful last month in the Republican-controlled House during an unexpected vote in which dozens of Democrats were absent.

Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the two-year spending plan in late June, criticizing the absence of Medicaid expansion in the budget bill and presence of what he labeled paltry teacher pay raises when corporate income taxes were being cut again by the GOP. Negotiations have gone nowhere since, with expansion being the major hang-up.

Senate Republicans would need only one Democrat to join them or two Democrats to be absent to enact the budget on their terms. But Cooper and Senate Democrats have said repeatedly recently that all 21 Democrats are united in upholding the veto.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) told reporters that Republicans are willing to adjust some state budget spending in a separate, stand-alone measure designed to satisfy Democratic concerns in some areas if Democratic senators vote to override.

“We will never reach agreement if Democrats continue to oppose any compromise budget that does not include Medicaid expansion. It’s up to them,” Berger said. “They can negotiate, or they can hold out over a single policy disagreement. We’ll know what they decide by the end of this week.”

Senate and House Republicans are looking to wrap up key legislation and reach deals on other matters not related to the budget by Thursday, then leave for a period of weeks.

If an override cannot be completed, Berger said his chamber would attempt to advance additional “mini budgets,” or separate bills containing popular portions of the vetoed measure. Cooper has signed all but one of those measures since Republicans began the strategy in August.

Regardless of the budget outcome, Berger said the House and Senate also will attempt to pass a bill that spends more on teacher pay raises compared with what the budget bill contains. He didn’t have details on how much more would be spent, but there are more funds because of stronger than anticipated tax revenues and less overall spending during the budget impasse.

The budget bill offered average teacher raises of 3.9% over two years. Cooper sought more than twice that percentage increase.

Berger said the Senate also would attempt to override a Cooper veto of a bill that would fund the state’s transition to a managed-care program for Medicaid. The program is supposed to go online in February, but that can’t be completed without more funding.