On June 28, when Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the budget passed by the General Assembly, he called it “an astonishing failure.”
This type of hyperbolic political rhetoric is nothing new from this governor. In fact he made similar claims when he vetoed last year’s budget and the budget the year before that.
Thankfully for the citizens of North Carolina, the governor’s vetoes in 2017 and 2018 were largely symbolic. Designed to appeal to his far-left base by highlighting his refusal to work together with legislative Republicans, the vetoes never really had a chance of being upheld due to Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature. There was never any real risk that all the good things those budgets did for the state, like tax cuts for working families, teacher and state employee raises and public school funding, were not going to be enacted, and the governor knew that.
But things are different this year, and Gov. Cooper is playing a dangerous game of chicken with the lives of millions of North Carolinians across the state. Republicans still hold a majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, but due to Democrats picking up seats in last year’s elections, we no longer have a supermajority. This means that unless enough Democrats vote with Republicans to override Gov. Cooper’s veto then a number of essential priorities for the state, counties, and municipalities that are in that budget will not be enacted.
Although a number of Democratic legislators in both the Senate and House voted for the budget when it passed the General Assembly, some of them are already publicly saying they will uphold Gov. Cooper’s veto when it comes up for a vote. And in what seemed very odd to me, a number of them also appeared at Governor Cooper’s veto announcement press conference last week even though they had just voted to pass the same budget a day earlier.
Let me be very clear about what is at risk here. The budget passed by the legislature provides most state employees with a 5 percent salary increase and provides teachers with an average raise of 3.9 percent over the next two years. It increases funding for public education by more than $1.4 billion over the next two years and commits to $4.4 billion in funding for new schools and repairs. It also provides more than $91 million for school safety measures and allocates money to clear the rape kit backlog in our state. And those are just a few of the statewide items from the budget.
Let’s take a look at what Guilford County is in jeopardy of missing out on. Without a veto override, Guilford County schools and community colleges would be missing out on an infusion of capital funding as part of a statewide plan to repair existing schools and build new schools. The budget provides almost $29 million in capital funding for K-12 schools in the county as well as more than $19 million for Guilford Technical Community College.
The $3 million set aside for a Guilford County Schools pilot program to establish career academies at various high schools that specialize in career and technical education would also disappear. State universities in the county would miss out on money for important projects and initiatives as well. UNC Greensboro would not receive $84 million to renovate and expand Jackson Library. Meanwhile, N.C. A&T would be losing $18.5 million to renovate Carter Hall as well as an additional $15 million for the school’s doctoral programs and $3.2 million to support the state matching requirement for agricultural research and Cooperative Extension federal grants
The county would also miss out on $7.7 million to construct a new mental health crisis center and $1 million in vital funding to assist in recovery efforts from the tornado that tore through Greensboro in April 2018.
I hope we are able to override the budget. Despite what Gov. Cooper may claim, this is a budget that delivers for our state and Guilford County. Unfortunately, it’s not up to me or my Republican colleagues at this point. Unless enough Democratic legislators choose policy over politics, then Gov. Cooper’s veto will stand and millions of North Carolinians will miss out on these important priorities.
The writer is a state senator who represents Alamance County and a portion of Guilford County.