Politics & Government

As NC budget talks stall, Senate leaders take overseas trip

Just hours after Gov. Roy Cooper and Democratic legislative leaders delivered a new budget proposal to Republican legislative leaders, two of them were on their way out of the country.

Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County and Sen. Harry Brown of Onslow County, who is the Senate majority leader and a budget writer, were on their way to attend the Senate Presidents’ Forum summer 2019 conference in Berlin.

According to the group’s website, there will be sessions on recent trade tariffs, Brexit and nationalist trends, and an update on the Middle East. The conference runs through July 14.

The trip comes weeks after Republicans criticized Cooper for leaving the state for non-state business while attempting to set up budget negotiation meetings. Cooper was traveling to New York on June 20. It’s unclear what that business was because his campaign would not comment on the matter. Cooper’s government staff at the time sent out memos to reporters saying Republicans were “refusing to come to the negotiating table.”

On Monday, Cooper invited legislative leaders to a meeting to discuss his budget counter proposal following his June 28 veto of the budget. Legislative leaders turned down the invitation.

“Gov. Cooper has consistently worked to meet with legislative Republicans to reach a budget compromise,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said on Tuesday. “Legislators in turn have refused to participate in meaningful negotiations and as of this week, have refused even to even meet. North Carolinians deserve better.”

During a news conference on Tuesday, Berger told reporters that he thought the invitation — which he said was received after business hours — was “of the (public relations) nature as opposed to a serious attempt to try to solve the problem.”

The NC Democratic Party released a statement Wednesday saying: “Just two days ago, Berger sent a press release asserting that the Governor is unwilling to move the budget forward. ... And yet, instead of coming to the table and working with the Governor, Berger and Brown are Berlin-bound.”

Senate Republicans issued their own statement Wednesday. A news release from Sen. Bill Rabon’s office says that unlike Cooper, Berger and Brown’s “offices have been open and transparent about their whereabouts and the reason for it.”