Wednesday, 02 October 2019 14:48

More mini-budgets to come, Senate leader says

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RALEIGH — State lawmakers will continue to consider mini-budgets. For now.

A Senate vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto is still possible, but that probably won’t happen until the candidate filing period ends noon Dec. 20, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 1.

The Senate will consider mini-budgets covering the historic tax credit, the N.C. Department of Transportation budget, funding to implement Raise the Age criminal-justice reform, funding for community colleges, and funding for rural broadband.

Those bills have yet to be filed. But, Berger said, the funding figures will mostly mirror provisions from the bill Cooper vetoed.

He said a plan including teacher pay raises would come up later this month.

“We wanted to clear the deck of budget provisions that have broad bipartisan support,” Berger said. “There’s no sense in holding those things up because of an unrelated disagreement on the budget overall.”

The General Assembly has moved on other mini-budgets, including those for school safety measures and rape kit testing. Mini-budgets have passed giving raises to State Highway Patrol officers and drawing down federal grants.

Cooper vetoed the $24 billion budget bill June 28. Since then, the governor and the General Assembly have been locked in a stalemate. Cooper wants Medicaid Expansion and has said he won’t sign a budget without money to expand the program. Republicans aren’t keen on the idea, but have suggested holding a special session on health care.

The House passed an override of the budget veto Sept. 11, months after the bill was put on the calendar. Most House Democrats weren’t present for the 8:30 a.m. session. Democrats claim they were misled into believing no votes would be held during the morning session. The House Republican leadership denies misleading anyone on the veto override.

Berger said the Senate will adhere to the rules in overriding the veto — including a 24-hour notice to all senators before a vote.

To override the veto, Senate Republicans need at least one Democratic vote.

Berger said Senate Democrats who want to pass the budget are being pressured to sustain Cooper’s veto. He says he has heard stories about people introducing lawmakers to primary challengers, should that lawmaker vote to override. Berger wouldn’t say who told him these stories.

“Legislators are elected to serve the people they represent and not be subservient to the person living in the [Executive Mansion] down the street,” Berger said of Cooper.

Berger said he would continue to work with Senate Democrats on a compromise, but he plans to adjourn by the end of the month. A supplemental spending plan, with items that weren’t in the budget Cooper vetoed, is one idea.

“If we can negotiate a compromise budget with legislative Democrats, that can be done before Oct. 31,” Berger said. If not, lawmakers will go home before deciding to return.

“Democrat senators can vote their consciences free of primary opposition threats,” Berger said. “If political threats are preventing the budget from becoming law, then maybe we should come back once that threat is removed.”