North Carolina General Assembly Republicans completed the override Tuesday of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of their state budget legislation for the second year in a row.
The House secured the override with a nearly party-line 73-44 vote after floor debate. The Senate voted to override last week, the day after Cooper issued his veto. Republican margins in both chambers are wide enough for any override if they remain united. This is the 11th override of Cooper's 14 vetoes since he took office in early 2017.
The bill, which adjusts the second year of the two-year budget, largely takes effect July 1. Cooper complained the GOP's $23.9 billion spending plan didn't do enough for public education, teacher pay and the environment. Republicans countered that Cooper wanted to spend too much — about $600 million more — in his own proposal.
Cooper's budget recommendations also would have blocked rate cuts for the corporate income tax and the individual income tax for the highest wage earners that Republicans previously approved and are set to take effect in January. Cooper said those tax proceeds would have benefited education, particularly teacher pay.
But the governor's proposal meant tax increases now and possibly in the near future, said Rep. Nelson Dollar, the House's senior budget-writer. He cited a report from the legislature's nonpartisan fiscal staff that Cooper's proposal would have led to a $470 million gap between state government revenues and expenditures before drawing up the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
The tax cuts remain in place in the legislative budget and would provide average 6.5 percent teacher pay increases, along with significant raises on average for correctional officers and state troopers. The minimum pay for full-time state employees will now be $31,200 a year — the equivalent of $15 per hour — and help thousands of low-income workers.
The GOP plan, Dollar said, "is a strong and responsible budget. There are no tax increases. Our economy benefits from this budget."
House Democrats repeated Cooper's complaints that lawmakers could have done more and it's the Republican plan that's fiscally irresponsible due to multiple years of tax cuts for corporations. Cooper wanted to increase pay raises for teachers by 8 percent on average and to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of additional residents, paid for entirely with non-state dollars.
"This budget was a missed opportunity, in my opinion," said Rep. James Farmer-Butterfield, a Wilson County Democrat. "It would have saved lives, created jobs and prevented more rural hospitals from closing."
Democrats also blasted Republicans for the legislative process. House and Senate Republicans negotiated the budget privately for several weeks before rolling out the final plan late last month. There was no avenue to offer amendments. The budget contained tens of millions of dollars to nonprofits, local government and agencies and other entities, which critics call pork.
"Legislative leaders rammed this budget through with no public input or the opportunity for amendment and North Carolina families should hold their representatives accountable," Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a release.
Cooper last week left no doubt that Democrats would make budget differences a chief issue in the fall elections. Democrats are trying to end the veto-proof majorities or take control of one or both chambers for the first time since 2010.
GOP legislators believe their budgeting will win the day among voters, citing the tax breaks, hundreds of millions of dollars for government buildings and schools construction, along with money to bring the state's rainy-day reserve above $2 billion.
The final budget bill also contained economic incentive changes to expand tax breaks to lure companies that create thousands of jobs in North Carolina. It could be attractive to a company such as Apple, which is strongly considering the state for a new corporate campus.
The lone Democrat voting to override — Rep. Duane Hall of Raleigh — cited the state employee salary increases in his decision. Hall lost his primary last month following allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has strongly denied. Cooper, among other Democrats, called for his resignation.