Politics & Government

Seven Democrats broke with party on budget — and got millions for their districts

Gov. Roy Cooper will veto GOP-backed state budget

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he plans to veto a GOP-backed state budget. It’s the first time Republicans don’t have enough members to override his budget veto on their own.
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Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he plans to veto a GOP-backed state budget. It’s the first time Republicans don’t have enough members to override his budget veto on their own.

The seven Democrats who voted for the budget late last month got tens of millions of dollars in appropriations for projects in their districts, according to a review of budget earmarks by the NC Insider.

The numbers appear to confirm rumors that Republican budget writers offered up major earmarks to Democrats in the hopes of securing enough votes to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. The final vote count appears to be veto-proof in the Senate but not in the House if no one changes their position, but many of the Democrats who voted yes June 26 and 27 stood with Cooper on June 28 and pledged to help sustain his veto.

One of the Democrats, Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, listed the earmarks for his district in a news release explaining his vote. “This was a difficult decision and one that may be seen as politically unpopular,” Brockman said. “However, when I was elected to the House of Representatives, I vowed to work for the people in my district and do what is best for them. That is why I spent time this session negotiating funding for important priorities in High Point and Guilford County.”

Brockman’s release listed 17 earmarks totaling $3.2 million, mostly for a wide variety of nonprofit groups based in or around High Point. The biggest of the projects is $1 million for a jazz and blues festival. “With this budget, I was able to more than double the amount of money High Point receives, which will have a direct impact on my community,” Brockman said.

The other six Democrats received even more money than Brockman in their districts:

Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, got more than $9 million for Durham County projects, with the biggest amounts going to N.C. Central University and a nonprofit pre-kindergarten program. McKissick’s appointment to the N.C. Utilities Commission also got its first committee hearing on the same day the budget was sent to the governor.

Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, can boast of $7.5 million in earmarks for Pitt and Greene counties, including no-strings-attached grants to the small towns of Snow Hill and Walstonburg for unspecified “economic development projects.” The $7.5 million doesn’t include the $15 million allocated next year for a new medical school at East Carolina University.

The counties represented by Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, received about $11 million, with most of the money going to construction projects at Elizabeth City State University, including a crime lab there that will be named after Hunter’s father.

North Carolina legislators talk about their budget plan during a press conference at the North Carolina Legislative building in Raleigh, N.C. on June 25, 2019.

The three counties represented by Sen. Toby Fitch, D-Wilson, would get a total of nearly $10 million, including millions in disaster recovery money for Princeville and Elm City and a new training center at Edgecombe Community College.

Cumberland County is one of the biggest winners in this year’s budget, and Sen. Ben Clark, D-Hoke, and Rep. Elmer Floyd, D-Cumberland, both voted yes. Cumberland projects would receive more than $20 million, including $12 million for the planned NC Civil War History Center and $4 million for the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center.

Clark, however, said he’ll vote against overriding Cooper’s veto. “There are some good things in this budget for Hoke and Cumberland Counties for sure,” he posted on Facebook Friday. “But we ran and were elected on the promise of better healthcare, better jobs and better schools. We can do better than this, so ... the fight continues.”

It’s unclear why GOP budget writers were willing to reward Democrats for initially voting for the budget if they were unwilling to break with the governor on an override. Asked June 28 if he or budget writers had asked the supportive Democrats to pledge their support in an override, Senate leader Phil Berger said “I have not asked for nor received any such pledge.”

N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger talks about his response after Gov. Roy Cooper held a press conference announcing he would veto the budget Friday, June 28, 2019.

In addition to the seven Democrats, Republican legislators also received numerous earmarks for their districts. Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, tweeted that the budget includes “477 earmarks totaling more than $353 million.”

But communities represented by Democrats who voted against the budget were largely left out. Search the budget for appropriations for Vance and Warren counties (represented by Democrats in both the House and Senate), for example, and no results turn up.

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