Republican leaders in the N.C. Senate are playing their own waiting game with a potential override vote of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s state budget veto.
Following Senate leader Phil Berger’s announcement Oct. 25 that he intends to adjourn the Senate by Thursday, the veto override vote has since been placed and withdrawn from the floor calendar twice.
The next scheduled floor session is set for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Cooper issued his veto June 28, meaning the state budget stalemate reached four months Monday.
“I think we’re in a wait-and-see moment in the Senate, in unchartered waters with the budget,” said Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth. “I don’t expect a vote on the veto override this week, but that doesn’t there won’t be one.”
House Republican leaders waited 76 days to conduct their veto override vote in controversial manner Sept. 11. Most Democratic members were not on the floor because they said they had been told by Republican House leadership that no votes would be taken during the first session that day.
Cooper’s veto came in part because the Republican budget compromise does not contain legislation to support expanding Medicaid to between 450,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians.
Cooper said the GOP budget does not contain a large enough pay increase for public school teachers — he has proposed an 8.6% raise, while the GOP budget contains a 3.8% raise.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Berger said the House and Senate will attempt to pass a mini-budget bill that provides a pay raise above 3.8%. Berger said more funds are available because of stronger than anticipated tax revenues and less overall spending during the budget impasse.
At full attendance, Republicans would need at least one Democratic senator to vote for the veto override to achieve the 30-vote three-fifth majority requirement.
It really seems as though the Republicans are having difficulty picking up the one Democrat that they need to vote to override the budget veto,” said Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University.
“This is a very dangerous game that is being played by both sides, especially if education is not passed separately in a mini-budget format. Education spending would normally increase with the growing population and inflation, but instead we are left with the previous budget, and that could mean overcrowded classrooms and disgruntled teachers.”
Lowe said he believes the 21 Democrats will vote to support Cooper’s veto, in part because of how House Republican leadership handled that veto vote.
Madjd-Sadjadi said the biggest political and social question about the vetoed budget is “who will be blamed for this?”
“That is why this is so politically sensitive, and why the Republicans are loathe to attempt the override unless they can guarantee its passage since they are worried they might end up getting the blame, and thus be put on the defensive in the upcoming elections next year,” Madjd-Sadjadi said. “At the same time, the Democrats need to worry as well since it was their governor who vetoed the budget in the first place.”
One reason for Senate Republican leadership delaying the veto override vote Tuesday was Sen. John Alexander, R-Franklin, being granted an excused absence.
Alexander’s absence “made the math more difficult for GOP leaders seeking to override,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.
“Two Democrats would have needed to vote with the Republicans, or three Democrats would have needed to be absent, to make an override possible,” Kokai said.
“Senate leader Phil Berger has said consistently that the override vote will take place only if he has enough votes to succeed. If not, his plan is to wrap up work this week with whatever mini-budgets can make it through both legislative chambers.
“I don’t get the sense that legislative leaders feel any pressure as time winds down,” Kokai said.
Berger said in a statement Friday that “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: To be here and vote, or not.
“We will never reach agreement if Democrats continue to oppose any compromise budget that does not include Medicaid expansion. It’s up to them.
“They can negotiate, or they can hold out over a single policy disagreement,” Berger said.
Cooper also has opposed the GOP budget for containing another round of corporate franchise tax cuts.
The effort to place the franchise tax cut into Senate Bill 578, as part of the mini-budget strategy, cleared the Senate by a 31-18 vote Thursday with an extension of film grants as a potential sweetener to Democrats. Three Democrats, including Lowe, voted for the bill.
The House has not taken up SB578.
Lowe said his support for SB578 comes from how important the film industry and UNC School of the Arts are to his constituents.
Cooper and Senate Democrats have expressed confidence that all 21 Democrats would vote to sustain Cooper’s budget veto.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, said in a statement Monday that delaying the proposed override “tells us that Republicans know the governor’s veto will be sustained. They need to take our proposals seriously.”
Cooper has signed all but one of the mini-budget bills, the lone veto being for House Bill 555, which contained $218 million in start-up funding from the proposed state budget for the Medicaid managed-care transformation initiative now set for a Feb. 1 statewide start.
“Recent public comments suggest that the Medicaid transformation bill is inextricably caught in the middle of the budget dispute,” Kokai said. “If senators take no action on overriding the budget veto, it would be surprising to see any action on the Medicaid-related veto.”
Cooper’s office said in a statement Thursday that he “has said piecemeal budgets are not an effective way to fund state needs.”
“But he told Republican leaders ... that if they are going to continue down the ‘mini budget’ path, then teacher pay should be negotiated.”
John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University, and a national expert on state legislatures, said that “if there can be some compromise reached on some of these education and tax issues, then these could be handled through various separate budget adjustment acts that would be passed alongside of or around the same time as the budget veto would be overridden.”
Dinan said any Democratic senator who would vote to override the budget veto “will want to be assured of the passage of separate budget adjustment bills to increase teacher salaries even further than in the budget and perhaps address other negotiation items.”