After his veto of the new state budget was thwarted, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has now told a court that parts of that budget are unconstitutional.
Specifically, he points to GOP-backed plans related to spending on education and the environment, as well as how to spend federal grants that add up to nearly $1 billion.
Cooper made the new allegations Tuesday as part of an ongoing lawsuit against legislative leaders.
Cooper has sued over numerous new laws as part of a power struggle between the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers that has been going on since Cooper defeated former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, even before Cooper took office in January.
Republican Sen. Phil Berger, the senate president pro tem, criticized Cooper’s latest accusations Tuesday evening.
“Today Gov. Cooper asked our court system to anoint him as both the governor and the legislature at the same time,” Berger said in a written statement. “We expect the judiciary will see through his thinly-veiled power grab, follow the constitution and dismiss this frivolous lawsuit.”
Cooper’s new court filing argued the opposite – that the legislature is violating the separation of powers by taking powers and duties that Cooper said should belong solely to the governor.
The budget gives $45 million this year for the controversial voucher program which allows parents to send their children to private schools using taxpayer-funded scholarships. Cooper has strongly criticized the program, saying those schools lack accountability.
The budget says the state will add $10 million more to the voucher program annually, until it hits $145 million in the 2027-28 school year. It also says the governor’s budget proposal has to recommend that same plan, for the next decade.
Cooper said that’s a large amount of spending that he and future governors shouldn’t be forced to support.
“But for the unconstitutional interference by the General Assembly, the Governor would not include nearly a billion dollars in vouchers in his proposed budgets during his term,” he said in Tuesday’s court filing.
Cooper argues in the filing that the governor should get to decide what he or she recommends, instead of being legally required to recommend a policy that the current members of the N.C. General Assembly want.
Also at issue is nearly $90 million that the governor and legislature are fighting over.
Last year, following a nationwide case against Volkswagen that Cooper worked on when he was North Carolina’s attorney general, the automaker was ordered to pay North Carolina $87 million for cheating on tests that measured whether its cars met acceptable levels of emissions, and for lying to regulators.
The new budget says that money can only be spent on projects that the General Assembly approves of. Cooper said that’s counter not only to the original settlement, but also to the state constitution.
Cooper’s suit claims, “it is the governor’s duty to administer those funds” and that the new budget and another law will “impermissably allow the General Assembly to prevent the governor from performing his core function under the North Carolina Constitution to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.’”
Federal block grants
Continuing the theme of fighting over who gets to direct spending and how, Cooper singled out a portion of the new budget that deals with the distribution of federal block grants.
He cites three grants that add up to nearly $1 billion, dealing with everything from substance abuse to community development projects. Of that money, Cooper pointed to $17.5 million in grants that he had selected for one purpose, but that the General Assembly moved to a different use.
“The General Assembly has no authority to appropriate these federal funds,” Cooper said.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran