Legislative building

The North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — In an act that has been called deceptive and un-democratic by state Democrats, N.C. House Republicans overrode the governor’s veto of the state budget in a Sept. 11 session that N.C. House Democrats say they were told would be a no-vote session.

The vote on the $24 billion state budget, House Bill 866, occurred in an 8:30 a.m. session of the N.C. House. Officially, there were only 70 members present, including 55 Republicans, in the 120-seat body. N.C. General Assembly rules state that a majority of members must be in attendance for a quorum.

The official veto override tally was 55-15 for HB966, despite furious protests by Democrats in attendance. If all 120 members were present, N.C. House Republicans would not have had the 60 percent needed for the veto override, as they account for 65 members.

“(N.C.) House Democrats could not be beaten in a fair, honorable process,” Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone) said in a statement. “Instead, (N.C.) House Republicans resorted to a level of deception unprecedented in N.C. history.”

“Under our rules, we took a vote on the override,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) said in a Sept. 11 statement. “It was properly noticed. The procedures were properly followed, and we took the vote.”

The budget impasse between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly has been ongoing since Cooper vetoed HB966 on June 28. Prior to Sept. 11, the last action on HB966 came on July 1 as the veto override was placed on the N.C. House calendar for a vote on July 8 and more than two months have passed without an action.

The Republican-crafted budget for 2019-20 includes teacher salary raises, lowering the standard deduction for income taxpayers, $300,000 for the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, $100,000 in infrastructure grants for Blowing Rock and $11,000 for signage in West Jefferson, $100,000 for the Watauga Paddle Trail, $100,000 for the removal of Wards Mill Dam off Old Watauga River Road, as well as the construction of a new N.C. Forest Service county office in Watauga County.

But Cooper and state Democrats say the budget lacks Medicaid expansion and better pay for state employees, school facilities, public infrastructure projects and the N.C. Division of Health and Human Services.

Russell was one of the 39 Democrats, out of 55 total in the body, who was not present at the 8:30 a.m. session. Russell stated he was told by Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Raleigh) that no votes would be taken in the 8:30 a.m. session.

However, N.C. House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis (R-Dunn) said he never told the N.C. legislature the Sept. 11 morning session would be a no-vote session. Russell said no-vote sessions are commonplace for procedural matters that don’t require members to be present.

WRAL-TV out of Raleigh published a text message purporting to be from Lewis to reporter Laura Leslie in which Lewis says the 8:30 a.m. session would be a no-vote session. In the exchange, Leslie asks, “Do you know whether the voting session will be at 8:30 (a.m.) tomorrow? Thanks,” to which Lewis replies, “No votes at 8:30 (a.m.)” Speaking on Sept. 11, Lewis told WRAL he didn’t there would be any votes during the 8:30 a.m. session. Lewis was not on the floor during the vote, the station reported.

Going forward, HB966 is now in the N.C. Senate, which currently has 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Like the N.C. House, a 60 percent vote is required to override the governor’s veto, meaning if one state Senate Democrat changes sides or two are not in attendance, the state Senate Republicans would have the votes, if in full attendance, for a veto override.

Sen. Deanna Ballard (R-Blowing Rock) said the the state Senate is currently occupied with a court-ordered redistricting that is due on Sept. 18 and wasn’t sure when a veto override vote would take place.

Ballard said she would vote to override the veto if it comes up in the state Senate, noting increases in funding for pre-K programs, money for the Appalachian Theatre and increased raises for state employees.

With the 2019-20 biennium budget not enacted, funding levels for state agencies and other state-funded organizations have stayed the same as under the previous biennium budget since the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. N.C. state law prevents a government shutdown.

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