Senate Democrats held firm Tuesday in their opposition to Senate Republican efforts to override two vetoes by Democratic Gov. Cooper.
As a result, Senate GOP leadership withdrew a planned override vote on Cooper’s veto of the Republican-sponsored state budget — likely until the next round of the 2019 legislative session, which starts April 28.
The Senate voted 28-21 in favor of overriding the veto of Senate Bill 354, which offered a 3.9% raise to public school educators.
However, Senate GOP fell two votes short of the 30 votes necessary for the override since all 21 Senate Democrats voted to sustain the veto. Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Anson, had an excused absence.
The increase was well short of the 8.5% to 9.1% raise requested by Cooper in his budget proposal, and a 6.5% increase compromise offered by Senate Democrats in October.
The same 28-21 vote occurred for House Bill 553, the Regulatory Reform Act.
Senate majority leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, held a press conference Tuesday morning in which he projected that no Senate Democrats would support overriding the budget veto.
Berger said the state would continue to operate via the mini-budgets passed in late 2019, with the other elements of the 2018-19 budget remaining in place.
Cooper vetoed House Bill 966 on June 28, primarily because it did not include expanding Medicaid to between 450,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians.
SB354, which both chambers of the General Assembly approved Oct. 31 and Cooper vetoed Nov. 8, also contained a 4.4% raise in supplement pay that was only effective if the budget veto was overridden.
The pay raises in SB354 would have been 2% in 2019-20 and 1.9% in 2020-21. The 2019-20 raise would be made retroactive to July 1.
“The record is clear. Senate Democrats and Gov. Cooper have never supported a Republican-proposed teacher pay raise, and they probably never will,” Berger said in a statement following the failure to override the veto on SB354.
Meanwhile, N.C. Democratic Party chairman Wayne Goodwin said in response to the failed veto override of SB354 that “Democrats remain committed to serving their constituencies and working on pocketbook issues, like increasing access to affordable health care and raising the pay of our hard working teachers.”
“Republicans are instead back in Raleigh to play partisan games and clean up the messes that they made and failed to fix last year, positions that voters will remember in November.”
No second-year budget talks
Berger released a statement Oct. 31 saying that through the mini-budget process, the legislature has “passed funding that totals 98.5% of the original $24 billion (budget) it passed in June.”
On Tuesday, Berger said he is prepared to negotiate a second-year budget without Medicaid expansion.
“But as long as it is there, there’s no reason to go through the process of adopting a second-year budget that will just be vetoed,” Berger said. “It’s a significant missed opportunity for the state.”
On Monday, Cooper told an audience at East Carolina University that “saying yes to (Medicaid) expansion should be one of the easiest decisions a policymaker can make, and it’s time to stand up for our rural communities.”
The Senate received HB966 on Sept. 11 after that chamber override Cooper’s budget veto in controversial manner.
The Senate did not place the budget veto override vote onto its floor agenda until Oct. 28, where it remained until being withdrawn Oct. 31.
Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said Tuesday that “public officials are elected to do the hard work of governing and find compromises, but Republican leaders are refusing to negotiate a teacher pay raise and saying that they are not going to pass any budget at all this year.”
“This shows the outrageous lengths legislative leaders will go to avoid negotiating with the governor, and it’s time for them to end their partisan obstruction.”
Berger said before and after the veto votes that Senate Democrats are more loyal to Cooper than their constituents, especially teachers wanting pay raises and increased funding for school construction.
“Democrats will have to face their constituents in the coming months and explain their choices” Berger said.
“(They) chose loyalty to the governor over teacher raises, new schools, healthcare for people with developmental disabilities, and a new Brody School of Medicine (at East Carolina). That does not sound like supporting sound policy to me.”
Berger views Cooper’s proposal for expanding Medicaid as an ultimatum.”
However, Berger fended off comment when asked by reporters why is it different when President Donald Trump insists on loyalty from Republican members of Congress. Berger said he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s comments and actions.
Berger said Cooper has convinced Senate Democrats that by declining to override the veto that they and Cooper ultimately will get concessions from Senate Republicans. Berger said “they will get neither.”
“Judge people on their actions, not on what they say or intend,” Berger said.
Sen, Joyce Krawiec R-Forsyth said, said she "disappointed" that Senate Democrats opposed the teacher pay raise given that "several of them voted for these raises originally."
"They preferred to appease the governor rather than give teachers and support staff a raise."
Krawiec said "regulatory reform has been a priority for the Senate for several years."
"The reforms that have been made have catapulted North Carolina's economy. We will continue to offer these measures."
Meanwhile, Krawiec acknowledged the reason the budget veto override was pulled was the lack of Senate Democrats' support.
"Perhaps, there will be a change of heart during short session and we will finally get a budget," she said.
Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Senate minority leader, said Tuesday that Senate Democrats offered Senate Republicans in October a teacher pay raise compromise of 6.5% that has not been acted upon.
“No one’s livelihood should be used as leverage for politics,” Blue said.
The N.C. Association of Educators responded to the Senate Republicans’ pay-supplemental offer on Oct. 30 by calling it “wildly insulting to educators of every level.”
Mark Jewell, the association’s president, said Tuesday that teachers are “tired of being political pawns."
He tied Republicans’ interest in overriding the budget veto more to allow for a corporate franchise tax rate cut rather than increasing teacher pay.
Jewell said that “even with these proposed (GOP pay) increases, education support professionals would still be getting less than other state employees have already received, and our retirees are ignored entirely.”
Berger stressed his opinion that a mini-budget addressing teacher pay can’t be done because it represents a $5 billion expenditures that has ripple effects throughout the budget.
He called Cooper’s proposal to negotiate teacher pay separately as “cynical political posturing.”
Porter said that Cooper has offered “repeated budget compromise proposals that would do more to raise teacher pay and fund new school construction.”
“While the Republicans passed mini budgets, the governor offered to negotiate teacher pay separately from other issues. Each time Republican leaders refused.”
Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said that "I hope that we will be able to negotiate something better than the Republican (pay raise) offer later this year.”
“I would like to have more conversations on these pay raises, but Republicans don’t seem to want to talk.
“They were so used to having the supermajority for so long that they didn’t have to negotiate, and they feel they can negotiate the one vote they need in the Senate even though Senate Democrats continue to hold firm in their support of the governor,” Lowe said.
Lowe said he agreed with Blue that “compromise is not, nor should it be, considered a dirty word.”
“Reality tells you the way the state is shifting demographically that more compromise will be the order in the future, not my way or the highway.”