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NCGA Ends Session Without Budget, But Clear 2020 Battle Lines

Rusty Jacobs, WUNC.

State lawmakers adjourned today without taking up a vote on overriding Governor Roy Cooper's budget veto. 

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) made it clear that come November he and fellow Republicans would remind voters of the Democrats' position.

"Senate Democrats have decided that political loyalty to Governor Cooper and his Medicaid expansion ultimatum is more important than funding for their districts, funding for HBCUs, funding for raises for North Carolina's educators," Berger argued.

In addition to pressing for expanding the number of low-income North Carolinians eligible for Medicaid coverage, Democrats wanted Republican budget writers to forego a proposed corporate tax cut and give teachers a salary increase of around 8.5%. Republicans are proposing a teacher salary increase of about half that amount.

A spokesman for Cooper said the governor has repeatedly offered to negotiate teacher raises separately, only to be rebuffed by GOP leaders in the legislature.

"Instead," said the statement issued by Cooper spokesman Ford Porter, "Republicans have demanded a spending plan that prioritizes more corporate tax cuts while shortchanging teacher pay and funding for new school construction and cutting resources for healthcare and clean air and water protections."

Back in September, Republicans in the state House successfully caught Democrats off guard and called a sudden vote to override Cooper's budget veto. But to complete the action, the 50-member Senate would need one of the chamber's 21 Democrats, with all senators present, to join the GOP for a three-fifths override vote.

At the end of Tuesday's session, Senator Berger indicated he was holding off an override vote on the budget in the hopes of finding that elusive defector.

"It's my hope that at some point we will find a single Democrat that will stiffen their spine and stand up," said Berger.

The legislature adjourned until April 28, 2020, the scheduled start of a short session that could focus, in part, on the budget. Berger said in light of the continuing stalemate, the session could, indeed, be very short.

Before concluding the session, lawmakers did pass legislation to fund a scholarship program for the children of wartime veterans. And in the senate, Democrats successfully sustained gubernatorial vetoes on a teacher pay raise measure and a regulatory reform bill.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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