State Politics

Berger blasts Cooper ‘double-speak’ in budget action

Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate fields questions during a press conference on Wednesday April 20, 2016 at the State Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C.
Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate fields questions during a press conference on Wednesday April 20, 2016 at the State Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Gov. Roy Cooper hasn’t yet taken action on the budget bill, and Senate leader Phil Berger sent out a news release critical of the governor Friday afternoon, noting that “it has been nearly 24 hours.”

Berger’s release accused Cooper of “double speak,” because when asked Tuesday if he’d veto the budget he called “irresponsible,” he said “I’ll let you know as soon as it hits my desk.”

Cooper’s spokesman indicated Thursday that the governor could take longer, noting that his staff is “reviewing” earmarks for specific legislators’ districts and “hidden policy changes” included in the budget.

“The more we learn about this budget, the worse it is,” spokesman Ford Porter said. “The governor made clear that he thinks this budget lacks vision and unfairly picks winners and losers and he will announce his plans in coming days.”

Berger said Cooper’s comments are inconsistent. “Once again, Gov. Cooper is proving his words mean little, but we hope this delay means he is actually reading the budget he dismissed before ever seeing and is realizing why so many of his fellow Democrats voted for the average 10 percent teacher pay raises, middle class tax cuts and Hurricane Matthew relief that he promised voters,” Berger said in the news release Friday.

So why does the timing of Cooper’s action matter? The legislature faces a June 30 deadline to pass a budget to keep state government running, and the House and Senate hope to end this year’s session at the end of next week.

The state constitution gives Cooper 10 days to sign or veto legislation, or it will automatically become law without his signature. That 10-day period gives Cooper until July 2 to address the budget bill. If he vetoes, the House and Senate would then vote to override, and they appear to have the three-fifths majority necessary to do so.

But if Cooper wants until July 2, the legislature would need to pass a temporary budget to keep state government running. That could also prevent the legislature from adjourning in time for the July 4 holiday.

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