Thursday, 12 December 2019 16:34

Senate leader’s budget message prompts Democrat’s fundraising pitch

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RALEIGH — The top officer in the N.C. Senate has issued a statement urging Democratic colleagues to help Republicans override the state budget veto next year. At least one Democrat turned that statement into a fundraising plea.

Senators return to Raleigh Jan. 14. As they enjoy a December break from action, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, released his statement “[i]n an effort to provide a clear and concise review of where things stand with the budget, including teacher pay.”

“Senate Democrats have a choice to make in January,” Berger said.

“For months, Governor Roy Cooper and I publicly expressed an intent to each other and the public that we were willing to negotiate, and I’m sure we both wanted to reach an agreement. We even broke Bojangles biscuits together. However, negotiations never got off the ground, and the primary reason is disagreement over Medicaid expansion. In my view the entire state budget should not be held up over a single policy disagreement, but that is where we are.”

Berger last spoke with Cooper on Oct. 22. “During that phone call, the Governor asked to negotiate changes in the teacher pay provisions in the budget separate and apart from the rest of the budget,” Berger added. “Because teacher pay is a $5 billion budget expenditure, even tiny adjustments will cause huge changes elsewhere. It is impossible to negotiate teacher pay in isolation.

“For that reason, I told the Governor I would negotiate teacher pay changes as part of a larger negotiation on the entire budget. The Governor declined, citing his months-long insistence on Medicaid expansion being part of any broader budget deal.”

If Cooper will accept no budget deal without Medicaid expansion, “the only pathway” to a teacher pay raise involves overriding Cooper’s budget veto, Berger said.

“It is entirely up to Senate Democrats whether we enact a new budget and provide teachers with pay raises or if we continue with the existing budget through 2020,” he added. “Since the budget initially passed the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority, it is my hope that the same bipartisan supermajority will vote for it again. But, ultimately, it is not up to me or Senate Republicans. It is up to Senate Democrats.”

Berger’s statement prompted a fundraising email from Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg. “We just got word from Senate Republican leadership that they’re bringing us back into session in January to (possibly) vote on the budget,” Jackson wrote in the email.” Why January? Because candidate filing ends in late December. Which means, by January, all of us in the legislature will know whether we have someone running against us in a primary.”

Jackson offers his theory about Republicans’ strategy. “What GOP leadership is hoping is that a few key Democrats don’t draw any primary opposition so they can be incentivized (via pork) to flip on the budget without fear of losing their primary as a result,” he said.

“In other words, it’s an open admission that they’re refusing to call the vote because they know they’d lose and would be forced to negotiate,” Jackson added. “If you think these dismal tactics call for new leadership, then let’s make that happen.”

The last sentence links to Jackson’s campaign fundraising page.

Four Senate Democrats joined all Republicans in approving the budget bill, House Bill 966, with a 33-15 vote on June 27. Cooper vetoed the budget bill. It has been sitting in the Senate since the House took a controversial Sept. 11 veto override vote.

Republicans would need just one Democratic vote — or two Democratic absences — to secure the three-fifths majority needed to override Cooper’s veto. That action would enact the budget, including teacher pay raises.