Politics & Government

The NC House overrode Gov. Cooper’s veto. Now what will happen in the Senate?

The N.C. House’s overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget last week, in a move that brought national attention. Now that that’s done, what’s next? The budget won’t go into effect unless the Senate overrides it, too.

Here’s how that could play out, and what’s in that budget that brought on the summer long standoff.

How we got here

For two months, the budget standoff dragged out. Medicaid expansion has been at the heart of the fight. Cooper and Democrats want it, but Republicans don’t. Cooper revealed a budget counter offer in July, but didn’t get one back.

Cooper’s veto was met in the House with a Medicaid expansion compromise bill and an override vote both added to the calendar. Speaker Tim Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican, said he wouldn’t call the vote until he thought he had the override. So day after day, Democrats showed up to sessions just in case the vote was called.

Until last Wednesday, Sept. 11, when Rep. Darren Jackson, the House minority leader, told them no votes would be taken after he said he was told so by Rep. David Lewis, Rules chair and a Harnett County Republican. When 55 Republicans showed up and just a dozen Democrats, Republicans held the vote and easily overrode the governor’s veto. But not quietly — Democrats immediately shouted their objections, most vehemently by Rep. Deb Butler of Wilmington, in a now-viral video where she shouted “How dare you usurp the process!” and “I will not yield!” to Moore.

The vote made national headlines, though some national media outlets got the timing of the vote wrong. It was on the calendar for 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, but Democrats weren’t there because Jackson told them there wouldn’t be any votes. There are a lot of no-vote sessions, so it being on the anniversary of 9/11 was not unusual. Just two Democrats have announced that they were at 9/11 commemorations — Rep. Garland Pierce, who was in Hoke County that morning, and Cooper, who as governor wouldn’t have been in the General Assembly anyway.

The next day, Democrats and progressives called for Moore to resign and others said trust in the building had broken down. But Republicans didn’t appear to break the rules, as votes can be taken during sessions unless otherwise announced publicly by the speaker or rules chair the day prior.

Now it goes to the Senate for a vote, too.

When the Senate will take up the override

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters last week that it could happen this week, but that the Senate was concentrating on a more pressing matter — redistricting the state’s General Assembly districts on court order — which is due in a few days.

What day the budget veto override will be added to the Senate calendar is still to be determined, but there are rules about when notice is given, and to whom.

Senate Principal Clerk Sarah Holland said there’s no deadline for when the veto override vote is placed on the Senate calendar after being overridden by the House.

“Once the chamber where the bill originated overrides a veto, the vetoed bill and the Governor’s veto message are sent to the other chamber. The other chamber may then refer the bill in accordance with their rules,” Holland told The News & Observer.

Here’s what the Senate Rules say about veto votes:

Once it is read in the Senate, the Rules chair can either refer the bill to a committee, or place the bill on the calendar.

The Rules chair gives the minority leader at least 24 hours’ notice that the vetoed bill may be considered by the Senate.

So that means Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican and Rules chair, or someone he designates, will tell Sen. Dan Blue, a Democrat and minority leader. Earlier this session when an override was before the Senate, written notice was given to Blue.

Leslie Rudd, spokesperson for Blue’s office, confirmed that the 24-hour notice is a Senate rule and that notice given of the veto override vote would be shared with the press.

Republicans have majorities in both chambers, but less of one in the Senate. In order to have the supermajority of three-fifths, if all senators are there, Republicans need only one Democrat to vote with them. But the fewer lawmakers on the floor, the numbers needed will change. That’s what happened on the House floor when they overrode the budget veto on Sept. 11.

Raises in the budget

Cooper signed into law some piecemeal parts of the budget already, a tactic Republicans rolled out a few weeks ago to pass non-controversial aspects of the budget. So state employees are already getting their raises of 2.5% for most employees in each of the next two years, equaling 5%.

The House and Senate passed another mini budget bill, Medicaid transformation, the upcoming transition from fee-for-service to managed care. Cooper vetoed that bill, but that veto of Medicaid transformation was overridden by the House on Sept. 11 in the same session as the budget override.

If the Senate also overrides Cooper’s budget veto, raises for the rest of the state employees will go into effect from this year’s state budget.

While many employees have received their raises through one of the mini budget bills, left on the table are UNC employees, community college employees and non-certified personnel who work in schools. Also, teachers have not received raises yet. If the budget is passed, they will get an average raise of 3.8%.

Another part of the budget that impacts state employees is the relocation of the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters from Dix Park in Raleigh to Granville County, about an hour away. At a town hall held in July, some DHHS employees said they’d quit if the state agency headquarters relocated so far away.

What about the Taxpayer Refund Act

The Senate already passed the Taxpayer Refund Act, which was rolled out at the same time as the mini budgets but is a separate bill. It would return most of the state’s budget surplus to taxpayers — $125 to individuals or $250 to couples who filed jointly if they paid at least that much. If the refund passes the House, it goes to the governor.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.