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Gov. Roy Cooper to veto state budget bill; override expected

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that he plans to veto the budget bill passed by the Republican-led legislature, citing tax cuts he opposes and teacher raises that he says are inadequate.

Both the House and Senate have enough votes to override Cooper’s veto, which they’ll likely do this week before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Cooper’s move to veto didn’t come as a surprise. Shortly after the budget was released last week, the governor, a Democrat, called it “worse than either the Senate or the House budget, and I think it may be the most fiscally irresponsible budget I’ve ever seen.”

He reiterated his criticism in a news conference Monday announcing the veto. “Simply put, this budget shortchanges our state at a time it doesn’t have to,” Cooper said. “It prioritizes tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and comes up short for education and the economy. This budget is shortsighted and small minded.”

The $23 billion budget would give teachers an average pay raise of 3.3 percent – weighted toward experienced teachers – in the coming year, and would raise most other state employees’ pay by a flat $1,000. Retired state employees would receive a 1 percent, permanent cost-of-living increase in their pension checks.

The budget would make a series of tax cuts in 2019, a delay from earlier House and Senate tax cut proposals that would have taken effect in 2018. It would reduce the personal income tax rate from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent and raise the standard deduction – the amount on which people pay no income taxes unless they itemize – to $20,000 for married couples filing jointly from $17,500. It would also lower the corporate income tax rate to 2.5 percent from 3 percent.

The budget also takes aim at Cooper himself, cutting the governor’s office budget by $1 million, making it harder for his administration to hire private attorneys, and moving the Industrial Commission and an education grant program out from under the governor’s control.

Cooper called on the legislature to make changes to the budget, and if it doesn’t override his veto and instead submits a revised budget, he says he’d sign it.

Those changes include eliminating the corporate income tax cut, capping the personal income tax cut to include only households making less than $150,000, eliminating private school vouchers, funding a larger teacher raise plan and including funding for expanded broadband internet access.

“This list doesn’t come close to covering all my concerns with this budget, particularly those I believe are unconstitutional,” Cooper said. “But the changes I propose today would reflect more of the vision our state demands.”

On Monday, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger sent out a list of questions for the governor on how his veto follows his campaign promises on teacher pay, disaster relief and tax cuts for the middle class.

“By rejecting our fourth consecutive teacher pay raise – this time totaling 10 percent on average – a major middle-class tax cut and much-needed Hurricane Matthew relief, Gov. Cooper has broken some of his biggest promises to the voters, and they will hold him accountable,” a joint statement issued by Berger and Moore said. “We will too, by quickly overriding his veto.”

Shortly after Cooper’s announcement, students, parents and teachers gathered outside the Legislative Building to protest budgeted education spending as inadequate.

Left leaning groups Progress NC and the N.C. Justice Center organized the event.

Moore said last week that lawmakers are in line to raise average teacher salaries to $55,000 by 2020.

But Ann Daaleman, a music teacher in Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools entering her 25th school year, said the proposed raises won’t benefit veteran teachers. Daaleman said next year she would make about $30 more dollars a month, or roughly a 0.6 percent increase.

“I feel disrespected to think that my value to this state to stay and teach another year as an educator is only worth $30 a month,” Daalemen said.

Several teachers said they lack up-to-date textbooks, materials and technology. Tom Cook teaches accounting and a program called Virtual Enterprises International in which students learn what it is like to run a business. Cook said the information in textbooks his students use at Granville Central High School are not even close to what business practices are today. The book he uses in his class has not been updated since 2002.

“I always tell my students if they actually did what the book said, they would either be fired or they would go to prison,” Cook said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter