Republican legislators on Wednesday completed their override of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's budget veto, enacting the spending plan over Cooper's objections that it's shortsighted, fiscally irresponsible and in some places unconstitutional.
The N.C. House voted 76-43 to enact the two-year budget despite the governor's complaints, with GOP arguments over improved average teacher pay and broad tax cuts winning out for now. The Senate already agreed to its part of the override late Tuesday. The budget largely takes effect when the new fiscal year begins this weekend.
An override was expected — Republicans hold enough seats in the House and Senate to meet the three-fifths majorities required to overcome vetoes on their own if they remain united.
The override also makes it possible for the legislature to adjourn this year's work session by the weekend because the General Assembly's most extensive piece of legislation is now complete.
Cooper has now vetoed five bills since January. All have been overridden. The budget veto was the second in state history on the budget bill, the other one coming in 2011.
In his veto message, Cooper complained the budget contained tax rate reductions that favored the highest wage-earners and corporations that will funnel revenues away from other priorities, like his plan to get teacher pay up to the national average by the early 2020s.
But GOP leaders said the 438-page measure largely meets Cooper's recommendation of 10 percent average pay raises for teachers through mid-2019 — the final budget projects 9.6 percent increases over two years, including 3.3 percent on average this fall.
At the same time, the budget gives tax breaks to nearly all individual income tax filers, with 95,000 more low-income people set to pay zero income taxes. The income tax rate reductions — including a further decline in the corporate income tax — don't take effect until 2019, however.
"We also are not ashamed to say that we are providing tax relief for middle class, working families and business and we're doing it in a prudent way," Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Wake County Republican and top budget writer, said during the brief override debate. He said the budget falls in line with other Republican policies since taking over the General Assembly in 2011.
"Have the policies of this General Assembly over the last six years worked?" Dollar asked. "Yes, they've worked."
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson of Wake County said the few good things in the budget are overshadowed by tax cuts he says will lead to a $600 million shortfall by 2020. He also called the measure full of earmarks — what critics call pork — and "petty partisan paybacks." He pointed to a cut in Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein's office that Stein says would require the elimination of more than 100 attorney and administrative positions.
"There is a better way — we can work together," Jackson told colleagues.
In his veto message, Cooper also mentioned "unconstitutional flaws" in the bill that infringe upon his ability "to faithfully execute the laws." He didn't identify specifics in a news conference earlier this week.
Budget language would make it difficult for Cooper to hire outside attorneys to sue using taxpayer dollars. Cooper already has sued legislative leaders over laws that have eroded gubernatorial powers.