Sources: Deal close, but Governor Cooper may be losing his leverage on budget

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- State lawmakers may indeed be inching closer to a deal on a new state budget, but a compromise on the spending plan may happen without Gov. Roy Cooper.

Instead, sources tell ABC11 Republican leaders are also negotiating with enough Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate to gain support to override a veto. Though Republicans lack supermajorities in the General Assembly, they'll need only two Democratic defectors in the Senate and three in the House to give them enough votes to override.

Discussions between GOP leadership and Cooper, however, are still ongoing.

"With the understanding of the political reality that we have a governor who has yet to sign a budget in office, legislators are cognizant of that and we want to get to something the governor can sign," Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln County) said.

Saine, one of the budget writers, said the governor's insistence on expanding access to Medicaid remains a tough sell to house republicans.

"It's part of the discussion," Saine said. "I think everyone here has been adults in the room."

With nearly $30 billion collected last year, the Tar Heel State has quite a bank account including a $6 billion surplus. That surplus, however, provokes an immediate partisan divide on what should be done with that extra cash: Republicans generally support giving it back to taxpayers by slashing taxes, while Democrats argue if we have the money, then let's invest it where we need it.

"We're in a rainy day where our schools need so much and we're in a time where fiscal ability," Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange County) said. "We've got the cash in the bank."

Meyer, and many Democratic colleagues are doing their best to support Cooper's budget principles first introduced in March, which total a record $27.4 billion. Cooper's proposal includes a 10% raise for teachers and principals over two years -- 5.7% in the first year and 4.3% in the second. The plan also provides a $2,000 bonus for educators.

The governor said his budget provides for a $15 per hour minimum wage for non-certified school workers, such as bus drivers and other support staffers.

Democrats, however, remain on the sidelines as healthy Republican majorities in the House and Senate give the GOP first dibs at passing the budget, which each chamber did earlier this summer. Leaders in the House and Senate, moreover, have agreed in principle to a budget that spends $25.7 billion - nearly $2 billion less than Cooper's proposal.

Though the House is sure to make its own updates to the Senate plan, Saine and other House leaders expressed support for the bill's inclusion of up $12 billion in cash for infrastructure, capital projects over 10 years, plus significant cuts to both personal and corporate tax rates -- a package that Republicans estimate reduces median household income tax payments by 37% in 2022.

Fortunately or unfortunately, political divides over state budgets are hardly new, but what's unique to North Carolina is how the absence of an agreement does not lead to a government shutdown. Instead, the old budget snaps back into place -- and that's exactly what happened in 2019.
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