Politics & Government

Governor says GOP is using ‘trickery’ in budget stalemate. Piecemeal budgets advance.

Nearly two months into a budget standoff between North Carolina’s Democratic governor and the Republican-led General Assembly, both sides are trying new tactics to pass the budget.

Gov. Roy Cooper held a news conference Tuesday where he said 50 days after he presented a budget compromise, he’s still waiting on a Republican counteroffer.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the House and Senate on Tuesday moved forward piecemeal budgets to fund some raises for state employees. The Senate also passed the Taxpayer Refund Act announced last week by House Speaker Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, and Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican.

Cooper griped that they have not responded to his compromise budget that accepted almost all of the Republican-written budget. Cooper repeated that he wants Medicaid expansion to be on the table during budget negotiations. Republicans describe that as an “ultimatum,” which Cooper denies.

“Day after day, they put the vetoed budget on the calendar, and day after day they don’t vote on an override. They try strong arming, bribes, public pressure, university tours and even trickery. Still, they do not vote on the vetoed budget,” Cooper said.

Instead of the counteroffer he’s been waiting for, the governor said, “we get Congressional-style piecemeal budget bills. They don’t work well in Washington, and they won’t work well in North Carolina.”

Cooper called the piecemeal budget bills “another trick that is bad public policy to get a budget that is 100% their way, the wrong way.”

Raises and mini budget bills

Cooper’s budget compromise calls for an average 8.5% raise for teachers, while the budget passed by the General Assembly would give teachers a 3.8% average pay raise. On Monday, the first day of school for thousands of students in public schools, the Wake County Public School System Division of Principals and Assistant Principals sent a letter to the governor and General Assembly asking about “promised but unfunded” pay increases for support staff and step increases for salaried employees.

Teacher raises were not one of the three mini budget bills that made it through House committee and were later passed by the Senate that would give raises of 2.5% average to state employees, along with raises to the State Highway Patrol and other workers. The mini budget bills are for the same amounts as in the conference budget. Left out so far are teachers, but those raises are expected to come in future bills.

Moore told reporters on Tuesday that a teacher pay bill consistent with what was in the conference budget would be coming next week. He said they wanted to get salaries and benefits for state employees and teachers resolved while the budget impasse continues. Moore said piecemeal budgets are the path they’ll follow if they are unable to override the veto.

Taxpayer Refund Act

Another element to the summer budget standoff is the Taxpayer Refund Act that Republicans proposed last week to give much of the $900 million state budget surplus back to taxpayers.

Berger said it would cost about $680 million total to give $125 tax refunds to individual taxpayers or $250 to couples filing jointly if they paid at least that much in income tax already. Checks would start going out late this fall to 5.1 million taxpayers.

Sen. Michael Garrett, a Guilford County Democrat, called the refund a “gimmick.”

“We shouldn’t be talking about issuing a tax refund when we haven’t even passed a state budget,” Garrett said.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Republican, said it’s not a gimmick.

“We have overcharged the taxpayer, and any time that you are overcharged for something, then you deserve a refund,” Krawiec said.

The refund act passed the Senate 30 to 16, with four Democrats voting along with Republicans.

The Taxpayer Refund Act would also have to pass the House before being sent to the governor.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.