Politics & Government

Legislators override Roy Cooper's veto to pass their $23.9 billion budget

Yet another veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has failed to create any changes as the legislature finished voting to override his veto of the new state budget Tuesday morning.

The North Carolina Senate voted last week to override Cooper's veto by a vote of 34-13, and the state House of Representatives followed suit Tuesday with a 73-44 vote to pass the $23.9 billion spending plan into law.

Cooper acknowledged at the time that his veto was unlikely to survive in the heavily Republican legislature and that it would be largely symbolic.

"It's important to make this statement, to do the right thing," he said.

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Unlike most votes, which require only a majority to pass, veto overrides require what's known as a supermajority, which is 60 percent support. But that higher threshold hasn't proven difficult for Republican lawmakers so far.

Cooper has vetoed 14 bills in 2017 and 2018 so far, and the legislature has overriden 11 of those.

Tuesday's override vote was largely along party lines. Democratic Rep. Duane Hall voted with Republicans against Cooper.

Cooper had asked Hall to resign following sexual harassment allegations. Hall, who lost a primary election this spring and won't be back in the legislature next year, said he wanted to support state workers and thought they were treated well in the budget.

When Cooper vetoed the budget last Wednesday, he said it didn't do enough for public education and the environment while at the same time continuing to give additional tax breaks to corporations and wealthy people that he wanted to stop.

But Republicans defended the budget they passed, noting that it contained a 6.5 percent average pay raise for teachers and raises for other state employees that mostly ranged from 2 to 8 percent, depending on the job.

"It raises the minimum state salary for full-time state employees to $15 an hour," Cary Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar, one of the top budget writers, said Tuesday. "That's huge. We're the largest employer in the state."

The budget takes effect July 1.

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One of the main goals of Democrats in November's midterm elections is to break Republicans' supermajorities in one or both chambers of the legislature. That would make Cooper's veto power threatening and could force Republicans to negotiate more with Democrats on deals and compromises.

"November is coming," Cooper said when he vetoed the budget.

On Tuesday, Wake County Democratic Rep. Joe John said this year's secretive budget process, in which no changes were allowed once the budget became public knowledge, showed why people don't trust politicians.

"The public's view of us here in the General Assembly is not very favorable," he said, urging Republicans and his fellow Democrats to be more transparent in the future.

Democrats need to flip six Senate seats and four House seats this fall to break the GOP supermajorities in those chambers. Currently, Republicans hold 35 of the 50 Senate seats and 75 of the 120 House seats.

While a large number of seats in the General Assembly are nowhere near competitive, due in large part to GOP-led gerrymandering, Democratic operatives believe a "blue wave" of voters, driven in part by the divisive style of Republican President Donald Trump, could help them win the races that are close this fall.

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The veto struggles haven't just been due to the fact that Cooper is a Democrat and the legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, even though that is part of the dynamic.

The top Republicans in the legislature are able to command enough discipline among their members that even Cooper's Republican predecessor, former Gov. Pat McCrory, had difficulty getting the legislature to respect his vetoes. McCrory vetoed six bills as governor, and the legislature overrode four of them.

Those failed attempts of McCrory's included vetoes on controversial bills such as requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, allowing government officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and creating new punishments for whistleblowers.

However, McCrory was able to successfully veto a bill that involved a power struggle between his office and the legislature over who could appoint members of an unemployment insurance oversight board, and he was able to use a veto to force his fellow Republicans to re-write a bill regarding the state's coal ash cleanup.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran
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