RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the state budget bill Wednesday for the second year in a row, blaming legislative Republicans for a spending plan he says doesn't do enough for teacher pay, school safety and the environment.
The GOP-controlled General Assembly approved last week its $23.9 billion proposal, which adjusts the second year of the two-year budget approved in 2017. Cooper had until Monday to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
But it was clear Cooper was long poised to use his veto stamp, which public school teachers aligned with the North Carolina Association of Educators got to see happen before standing with him at a news conference announcing his decision. The NCAE had organized a rally last month that brought thousands of teachers and supporters to the Legislative Building to push for more education funding.
"This budget deserves to be vetoed. And I have done that just a few minutes ago," Cooper told reporters. Budget votes last week, however, indicate Republicans have the votes to override Cooper's budget veto, as they did last year.
Cooper's own budget recommendations released last month would have spent $600 million more than the approved GOP plan. The competing spending visions are laying the groundwork for the fall elections, in which Democrats are aiming to eliminate the Republicans' veto-proof majorities in both chambers or to win back control for the first time since 2010.
"November is coming," Cooper warned legislators.
The Republican bill offers average 6.5 percent raises for teachers, although some veteran teachers would get just $700 increases and a few nothing at all. Cooper's plan pitched average 8 percent raises for public school teachers — with every teacher getting at least 5 percent.
The governor found extra money for the higher pay by blocking a 2019 corporate income tax rate decrease and an individual income tax rate reduction for the highest wage earners already approved last year. The Republicans retain the income-tax cuts that take effect in January.
"People have a choice between the budget I am proposing that invests in public education and clean water and health care, and a budget that concentrates on tax breaks for corporations and families making over $200,000 year and doesn't do what is needed for public education," Cooper said.
Republican legislators actually increased overall public education spending by $700 million compared to this year and raised the minimum salary for thousands of low-income state employees to $31,200, the equivalent of $15 an hour. State troopers and correctional officers also got hefty average raises.
Cooper "has once again shown that he is more concerned about scoring political points than helping North Carolinians," House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said in a news release. "The people of North Carolina deserve better and they will get it when we override his veto."
Cooper also blasted the parliamentary process that led to its approval. Democrats weren't allowed to offer amendments to the Republican proposal, which was negotiated privately for weeks by House and Senate GOP budget-writers.
"That's undemocratic. It's wrong," he said.
Cooper wanted $130 million for school security upgrades and to hire student support personnel. Republicans set aside about one-quarter of that amount, and anticipated more would come in future years. The approved budget includes money to address the testing and research of emerging contaminants like GenX found in rivers and streams, but Cooper wanted more funneled to state regulators.
Republicans argue Cooper's budget proposal was unsustainable and would have required lawmakers to locate spending cuts or tax increases in mid-2019.
The legislature's nonpartisan research staff examined the competing executive and legislative branch budget and tax proposals and took into account expected necessary spending for the 2019-20 fiscal year. While projected revenues and expenditures would be essentially level if the General Assembly plan is carried out, Cooper's proposal would lead to a $470 million gap, according to the staff analysis.
In response, Cooper said Wednesday it was the GOP budget that was fiscally irresponsible, citing continued tax breaks.
Cooper has now issued 14 vetoes since taking office in early 2017. The legislature has overridden 10 of them so far.