Republican leaders dare Cooper to sign North Carolina budget

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republican legislative leaders dared Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday to sign the state budget heading to his desk. That’s very unlikely, given the repeated criticisms of both Cooper and other Democrats.

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House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger argued the two-year spending measure contains middle-class tax cuts, teacher pay raises of nearly 10 percent on average over two years, and money for reserves and Hurricane Matthew relief that Cooper had sought publicly. The Senate already approved the budget agreement Wednesday.

“The people of North Carolina expect their elected officials to keep their word,” Berger told reporters before the House gave final approval to the measure by a 77-38 vote Thursday afternoon.
“Governor, if the things you’ve said and campaigned on are more than just empty promises, you will sign this budget,” Berger said.

The more anticipated result of the final budget, which already cleared the Senate earlier this week, is a Cooper veto. The governor said the two-year spending plan is fiscally irresponsible and fails to provide enough for education and economic development.

Cooper will have 10 days to act on the measure, but how he’s leaning is pretty clear.

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

But Republicans have more than enough votes in both chambers to overcome the Democrat’s objections: “We will quickly override your veto,” Berger said.

In fact, a handful of House and Senate Democrats voted for the final measure, which at $23 billion would spend about 3 percent more compared to the current year’s budget.

The Republican plan would increase teacher salaries by 9.6 percent on average, but limit permanent raises to the most veteran teachers to $300, not including $385 annual bonuses. And while across-the-board income tax cuts for all North Carolina residents would provide relief to low- and middle-income teachers, the rate cut set to begin in 2019 means the highest wage earners keep the most cash.

“The governor should highly consider vetoing it, and if he does we’ll stand behind him,” House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said, adding there are “a lot of things that are done in here for petty, partisan reasons.”

Democrats complained the budget bill cuts funding for the offices of the governor and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, and earmarks tens of millions of dollars for local governments or nonprofit groups that could have been used for statewide needs

Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said there are always things in every budget bill that people don’t like, but imperfections shouldn’t stop people from supporting a budget that moves the state forward.

Moore also noted that a provision in the 438-page bill attempts to attract a large manufacturer by expanding economic incentives for a company that invests at least $4 billion and creates at least 5,000 jobs. Moore wouldn’t identify the company or describe other details, but he said the provision was created based on the needs of Cooper’s Department of Commerce.

“We’re on the cusp in this state of potentially landing a major industry in this state,” Moore said. “Why in the world would the governor not want to be on board signing this?”

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