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Gov. Cooper will let state budget bill become law without his signature

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Gov. Cooper will let state budget bill become law without his signature

Sep 22, 2023 | 11:53 am ET
By Lynn Bonner
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Gov. Cooper will let state budget bill become law without his signature
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (Photo: Screengrab from video feed)

Gov. Roy Cooper said he will allow the state’s new $30 billion budget to become law without his signature. 

He made the announcement Friday morning, shortly after the Senate gave the plan its final approval. Pursuant to the state constitution, the bill will become law if the governor chooses not to sign or veto it within 10 days of receiving it from the General Assembly.

The budget includes Medicaid expansion, a long-sought goal for Cooper and other Democrats. 

The budget also further erodes governors’ powers while giving legislative leaders more influence over the judiciary

The budget greatly expands private school vouchers, a move that Cooper had campaigned against for months in visits to public schools around the state. 

The budget is nearly three months late. Republicans spent weeks trying and failing to muster votes to successfully insert provisions for casinos and legalized video poker into the budget.

In a statement, Cooper said the budget was bad overall, but that 600,000 people had waited long enough for health insurance. The legislature approved Medicaid expansion in March, but connected its launch to state budget approval. 

“Health insurance for 600,000 more North Carolinians that brings more mental health and substance use disorder treatment, help for desperate rural hospitals and billions of dollars into our economy is a life-saving, monumental decision for our state,” the statement said.

“Make no mistake, overall this is a bad budget that seriously shortchanges our schools, prioritizes power grabs, keeps shady backroom deals secret and blatantly violates the constitution, and many of its provisions will face legal action.

“However, we must recognize this irresponsible legislature’s decade of refusal to expand Medicaid, which has caused life and death situations for so many North Carolinians and threatened the very existence of numerous rural hospitals. I will not allow people who are crying for help to wait any longer, so I am directing our Department of Health and Human Services to begin today the process for expanding Medicaid while allowing this budget to become law without my signature.”

Before the Senate passed the budget along party lines Friday morning, Sen. Graig Meyer, an Orange County Democrat, again warned that provisions giving an obscure group of legislative employees broadened investigative powers coupled with the provision exempting legislators’ communications from public records law could lead to abuses and corruption. 

The Senate also gave final approval to a bill that will strip the governor of appointments to the State Board of Elections and give the legislature appointment power for all State Board and local elections board members. The boards will have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, which critics warn will lead to greater control over elections by Republican legislative leaders (who will be empowered to break ties) and gridlock that could reduce early voting access. 

Changes to the boards would come in January, before the 2024 primaries. 

As the Senate voted, someone in the audience above could be heard shouting the bill “destroys democracy in North Carolina.”

Sen. Julie Mayfield, a Buncombe County Democrat, said North Carolina is “moving from democracy and toward an authoritarian form of government.”

Mayfield said she didn’t understand why more people weren’t worried about it. 

“We have crested the top of the rollercoaster, and we are hurtling down the other side,” she said.

With the budget behind them, legislators will next turn their attention to passing new congressional and legislative district lines for use in the 2024 elections. Public hearings begin next week and legislators are looking to approve new district plans in October.

Republicans are expected to further cement their power through redistricting. State and federal courts will not consider complaints about partisan gerrymandering.