Politics & Government

NC Senate might vote Monday to override Gov. Cooper’s budget veto

The North Carolina Senate may vote to override the governor’s budget veto Monday night.

The House overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto in a surprise vote Sept. 11 when almost half of the House members were absent. The vote drew national attention, and a video of Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat, objecting to the move went viral.

On Friday, the General Assembly announced that “pursuant to Senate rule 59.2(b), notice has been given by the Chair of the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate to the Senate Minority Leader that HB 966, 2019 Appropriations Act, may be considered by the Senate on Monday, October 28, 2019.”

The Senate convenes at 4 p.m. Monday, but the voting session will not be held until 7 p.m., according to a news release from the office of Senate leader Phil Berger.

Both chambers are majority Republican, but a supermajority is needed to override the governor’s veto.

Unlike the seven Democratic votes that would have been needed to override a veto in the House if everyone was present, only one Democrat is needed to vote with all the Senate Republicans for the needed three-fifths supermajority. Four Democrats voted for the budget — Sens. Floyd McKissick Jr., Don Davis, Ben Clark and Toby Fitch. Earlier this week McKissick told The News & Observer that he would vote to sustain the governor’s veto of the budget.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, tweeted Friday that he hopes the Senate’s Democrats stay “21 Strong,” meaning vote to sustain the veto.

This fall with the fiscal year months underway, Republicans started proposing so-called mini budget bills that mirrored the language in the state budget for noncontroversial items such as raises for many state employees.

Cooper signed some into law but vetoed a mini budget to fund Medicaid transformation. Cooper wants to negotiate with Republicans to pass a budget that includes Medicaid expansion and higher teacher raises than in the Republican-written budget, among other things.

“I fully expect our 21 Senators to stand together in upholding Governor Cooper’s veto. Regardless of how many mini-budgets our chamber has passed, Republicans continue to prioritize corporate tax cuts over better teacher pay,” Chaudhuri said in an email to The News & Observer on Friday.

Democrats accused Republicans of trickery to pull off the House override. Most Democrats weren’t there because they didn’t think it would be a voting session. Now the budget is one vote away from becoming law, four months into the new fiscal year.

‘Be here and vote or not’ Berger said

Berger has previously told reporters that they would follow the Senate rule that calls for at least 24 hours’ notice to the minority leader, Sen. Dan Blue.

“There should be no question that should the budget override vote come up, that every member of the Senate has been told publicly that they have a choice to make — be here and vote or not,” Berger said in September.

The notice about Monday night’s session doesn’t mean there will definitely be a vote, just that it may happen. The Senate could decide to postpone the vote to another day.

Berger’s office announced Friday that if the vote is not taken Monday night, Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon “will give proper notice, pursuant to Senate Rule 59.2(b), to the Senate Minority Leader if and when an override vote may be placed on the calendar again.”

Berger’s office said that the time of any future voting sessions will be announced on the Senate floor the previous day, and that the Senate still plans to adjourn by Oct. 31.

If McKissick is appointed to the state Utilities Commission next week as expected, that could mean one less Democratic vote in the Senate. Two candidates have already announced they are running for McKissick’s District 20 Senate seat in Durham: Natalie Murdock and Pierce Freelon.

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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.